azombiewrites: (The Man From Uncle)
[personal profile] azombiewrites
Title: The Shadowed Affair
Story One of 'The Sciophobia Affair' trilogy.
Fandom: The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (tv series)
Genre: Horror | Hurt/Comfort.
Rating: PG
Main Characters: Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin.
Disclaimer: Based on the characters created by Sam Rolfe.
Challenge: Written for The [livejournal.com profile] spook_me Multi-Fandom Halloween Ficathon 2016.
Prompt: Ghost
Picture Prompts: #1 and #2
Author's Notes: 'Man's Action' magazines did exist in the 1960's.
Total Word Count: 9,428
Status: Complete

Summary: When an agent fails to acquire a microchip hidden inside the contents of a room set deep within the bowels of an abandoned insane asylum, Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are sent in to retrieve it. It really is a shame the agent was too scared to mention the dead shadows living in the basement of the asylum.





The Shadowed Affair
Story One of 'The Sciophobia Affair' trilogy.



Pushed from behind, Napoleon Solo fell forward, his balance lost, unable to find its way back. A lack of solid ground beneath his feet, arms flailing as he struggled to find something within easy reach to stop his fall; a stair railing, a wall fixture . . . Kuryakin’s capable hands. He found nothing, the darkness a belittling hindrance to his sudden need to survive.

The stairs too deep, the angle too steep . . . tension filled his body, his muscles, a painful landing expected. First part of his journey short, a sudden interruption, Solo bounced off the edges of worn trodden steps, the stairs creaking with annoyance, a threat given to collapse beneath his weight. Interlude over, he tumbled forward, body twisting and rolling, feeling every bruise created as his body made a collective impact down the stairway and into a room set deep within the bowels of an abandoned insane asylum.

Reaching his final destination, his head and back slammed onto a wooden floor, the landing as hard and painful as anticipated. Air pulled from his lungs, the intrusion violent and excruciating, it left him struggling to take another breath through the pain rippling across his back and shoulders . . . his head. Body beaten by an inanimate object, everything hurt; muscle and bone.

Commiserating dust rising into the air around him, Solo lay still, limbs limp, unwilling to move . . . unwilling to determine if any of his injuries were as debilitating as they felt, certain something was broken, his skull fractured. There was no hurry, no reason to rush . . . only a multitude of life threatening information at risk of falling into the ungainly hands of Thrush.

U.N.C.L.E.’s first attempt to salvage the micro chip a spectacular failure, the agent responsible returning to headquarters a bumbling mess of fear and contradictions. They could gain nothing from him that made sense, only that he had been unable to complete the mission. The agent didn’t explain why, refusing to look Alexander Waverly in the eye, obvious the man was hiding something.

A decision made, Waverly sending his best agents to find the microchip, the information vital to U.N.C.L.E.’s intelligence. How the microchip came to be hidden in its present location, Solo didn’t know, Waverly citing need-to-know and the old man didn’t think it necessary to inform Solo, his top agent, the how and the why of U.N.C.L.E.’s current predicament.

Footsteps, slow and careful . . . intentional, reached Solo, gaining his attention, pulling his thoughts away from the pain and their mission. A scraping of fingers across the wall, the sound grating against Solo’s nerves. Normally so calm; flat on his back in the basement of an insane asylum, his body littered with pain, Solo wasn’t in the mood to be calm . . . not in the mood for Kuryakin’s sense of humour, expecting his friend to release a low, ghostly moan at any moment.

Lungs taking a breath, Solo opened his eyes, narrowed gaze searching the darkness for Kuryakin. A flicker of light, the beam from Kuryakin’s flashlight illuminating the stairs. Something moved, a dark shadow, a human form moving away from the light, its shape falling away as it disappeared into the darkness.

The bright light caught Solo’s features, a stab of pain striking through his skull, an unintentional assault. A soft groan of pain released through a clenched jaw, Solo closed his eyes and turned his head away. His neck wasn’t broken. Solo flexed his fingers, his toes. Grateful his back was intact, his spine undamaged. Damn obvious, even to him, the pain stumbling through his body enough to let him know he hadn’t suffered a serious spinal injury. Also aware a fall down a steep staircase was capable of inflicting so much more, able to take a person’s life; an embarrassing end to a departing soul.

Let out a sigh of relief.

Rushed footsteps . . .

A sudden presence by his side. A gentle caress across his forehead, fingers drifting through his hair . . . a cool breath on the side of his face sending a chill across his skin . . .

Hazel eyes snapping open, Solo saw something, a quick glimpse . . . someone stepping away, he wasn’t sure, the figure swept away into the shadows filling the basement. Knew one thing, certain of it . . . it hadn’t been Kuryakin.

“Falling down a set of stairs, Napoleon,” said Kuryakin, coming down the stairs, his balance confident, body agile. Flashlight and gaze already searching the interior of the basement, he placed himself in a position beside the prone Solo. “Must you be such a cliché?”

Typical.

No respect for a senior agent.

“You need to read the manual, Illya. Cliché is part of the job.”

A touch of impatience in Kuryakin’s tone. “Are you going to get up?”

“This is all part of my plan . . .” A disturbing thought crossed Solo’s consciousness, a remembrance; a touch against his back. Solo frowned, mind replaying past events, a few minutes of memory. He hadn’t fallen. “I didn’t fall. Someone pushed me. Can you see anyone else down here . . . I thought I saw someone before you came stampeding toward my rescue.”

“Well, it is Halloween. You’re bound to see someone . . . or something.”

Narrowed his gaze and stared up at the man. “Do . . . you . . . see . . . anyone?”

“No, Napoleon, I don’t see anyone. Perhaps it was a ghost,” said Kuryakin, looking down at Solo, the flashlight lighting up Solo’s features. “It’s rumoured this building is haunted. Fascinating really. Did you know thirteen of the asylum’s patients were murdered in this very basement?”

“Have you been taking the elevator again?”

Kuryakin smirked, corner of his mouth lifting, the smile then disappearing behind a serious expression. “I read the file.”

“There’s a file?”

“With pictures. Very gruesome.”

“Are you sure there’s no one else here?” said Solo, still feeling the caress across his skin, the cold touch, his flesh still crawling with goose bumps.

“Do you think Boris Karloff is lurking somewhere in the shadows?”

Someone was lurking.

“Why do I suddenly feel like I’m in every horror film ever made?” said Solo, shifting his body, more pain than he wanted, less pain than he expected; muscles stiff and sore. Took a slow, deep breath; a twinge of pain through his back and shoulders, the lack of severe pain an indication his ribs had survived the short, unexpected journey. Let the breath out, an even slower release. Surviving a fall with only bruises and a headache . . . lucky was an understatement.

A sudden understanding of what had happened the night before, Solo shivered, his spine growing cold, a twinge of anxiety curling in his gut. The previous agent had fled the asylum, fear chasing his heels, snapping at his insanity. Solo felt a hungry need to communicate with headquarters, risk Waverly’s wrath in an attempt to question the man who had failed his mission. Before he moved further into the basement of the asylum, an explanation needed . . . confirmation there actually was a socially, inapt ghost inhabiting the building.

Haunting its basement.

Pushing respectable secret agents down the staircase leading into the bowels of the asylum, an aggressive invitation. No RSVP required.

“Ghosts do not exist,” said Kuryakin, “and please, do take your time getting up.”

Accompanied by subtle curl of his lip, Solo glared at Kuryakin. “Something pushed me, Illya.”

“Or you tripped over your own clumsy feet and are too embarrassed to admit it,” said Kuryakin, removing his weapon from its holster and sending the beam of the flashlight through the room a second time, a more thorough search. Like a rollercoaster movement, quick and uneven, high and low, the light highlighted the areas of the basement, revealing an assortment of abused furniture. Frowned when the light failed to expose the kitchen sink. “There’s no kitchen sink.”

“Every basement has a kitchen sink.”

“Not this one. You could help me look . . . if you got up off the floor.”

Kuryakin was right. They had to find the kitchen sink, the microchip hidden in its empty depths. Its hiding place was too obvious, able to fool the most innocent of people, even a curious ghost but not an intelligent secret agent; a miracle Thrush were yet to make their own attempt to secure the information.

Possible they already had, the result the same, their agent fleeing the asylum in confusion and unadulterated terror . . . possible they would soon send in a replacement just as U.N.C.L.E. had done. A liability if Thrush were already in the building making their way through the confusing network of corridors toward the bowels of the asylum.

No. There was no more time to wallow about his current status. No time to embrace and comfort the aches and pains . . . his mind’s imagination. No more time to allow the absurd consideration of the possible existence of a ghost . . .

Not so absurd.

Pushed from behind, his ghostly assailant disguised by the darkness.

A glimpse of something on the stairs.

A soft caress.

There was something here.

A clumsy attempt to sit up. Not physically ready, his body protested, his world taking on a sickening angle, head spinning, vertigo causing his balance to become forgetful. Unsure of which way to fall, his body hovered, taking its time before coming to a conclusion while his hands, his fingers searched for a credible support structure, Kuryakin’s trousers the closest thing; they would have to do, nothing else available.

Kuryakin reacted, his hands occupied, his left leg free to stop Solo’s fall . . .

A touch between his shoulder blades kept him from falling back. A jolt of fear, his anxiety creating an imaginative image . . . the ghost in attendance, supplying a helping hand. Realized with a hint of foolishness the touch was solid. Thankful for the physical support, Solo took a moment to regain his equilibrium, waited for the dizziness to release its hold.

Remembered the touch that had sent him bouncing and tumbling down a set of stairs had also been solid. A slow glance over his left shoulder, unsure of what he would see. Grimaced with disgust when he realized his fellow agent, his friend, was using his foot to keep Solo upright, the solid touch the sole of Kuryakin’s shoe.

No respect.

For a senior agent or his tailored suit.

He wasn’t sure how he was going to achieve a vertical position, a simple thing becoming such a difficult venture. His head ached, brain floating on an outgoing tide of vertigo. His back itched with a pain that would soon become an annoyance. It was going to hurt like hell when his back muscles were in use, certain of it. Damn, it felt like someone had thrown him down a flight of stairs . . .

Something had thrown him down the stairs.

Pushed. Eager to get its victim into its lair. To drain him of his life force. Seduce him into a zombie-like existence . . .

He had to stop reading those ‘Man’s Action’ magazines they kept in the all too familiar hospital ward; convinced the reading material was an inside joke, the punch line only known to the female nurses.

Kuryakin lowered his leg, allowing it to hang in the air for a few seconds. Waited. A look of satisfaction on his face, he let it fall the rest of the way, shoe slapping against the floor. Smirked when Solo flinched at the sound. “If you don’t hurry up, we’ll still be here during the witching hour.”

Flinching at the sound, Solo said, “And that would be?”

“Between three and four am.”

“You didn’t read a file,” said Solo, scowling at the darkness. “You read a book.”

A long sigh, a breath of frustration, Kuryakin stepped away, moving further into the basement, away from Solo. Holstering his gun, he began a physical search, shifting through the old furniture. Nothing hidden in obscurity, everything clearly evident . . . too small or too compact to hide a Butcher sink. No canvas coverings, nothing hidden beneath camouflaged material. It wasn’t here.

“Do you think Thrush has already found the microchip?” said Kuryakin, lifting his gaze, his flashlight, searching the walls for the outline of a hidden door, a hidden compartment. A map that indicated the current location of the kitchen sink. “They could have taken the sink with them.”

Left in darkness, Solo contemplated the question, head aching with the effort, an added burden to the already existing pain. “Are there any footsteps in the dust, any markings to indicate someone has already been here? Apart from our agent with the fragile personality.”

His current search interrupted, Kuryakin moved the beam of light across the floor. Accumulated dust showed only the footsteps created by his own feet, the small prints an indication of his height. “No, only my own.”

“Then they don’t have it,” said Solo, ignoring the fact their agent hadn’t made it to the basement, kept at bay by something that had turned the man into a petrified confusion of chaos. “Keep looking.”

Kuryakin’s gaze followed the beam of light as it continued its journey across the walls, the light pausing . . . waiting . . . something had caught his attention. He stepped closer to the wall, fingers reaching out, his touch following the outline of a hidden door. “There’s another door.”

Solo turned his upper body, twisting at the waist. The vertigo still unpleasant, no longer debilitating. More confident he would be able to do his job. Tapered his gaze, the hidden door now visible, the flashlight giving away its secret, betraying its confidence. “And you didn’t see that before?”

“It wasn’t obvious.”

Now obligated to move, no intention of allowing Kuryakin to go further on his own, not when there was something down here with them. Almost back to his old self, he felt capable, no longer dizzy, his balance restored. His head still ached, a heavy dull pain, thick, an inevitable encumbrance. If the weight of pain didn’t send him back to the floor, if his back didn’t punish him, muscles still twitching with pain, he should be all right, able to continue . . . able to protect his partner if Kuryakin continued with his unusual aptitude for getting into trouble.

A chilled touch painted his lips, a calm pressure . . .

Solo moved, snapping his body away from the touch. Eyes wide with confusion, he created distance as he stared into an empty space filled only with darkness. There was nothing there, no physical form to explain the soft kiss. His movements continued; so much space needed to separate his mind, his emotions . . . separate his fear from what had just happened, stopping only when his back hit a solid object. Back muscles protesting, a grimace creasing his features, a grunt of pain escaped.

He was an enforcement agent for the U.N.C.L.E. organization for all the right reasons and all the wrong reasons, able to separate the two when needed. He enjoyed living on the edge, the threat of death always so close. He didn’t feel alive unless he was physically or emotionally at risk. The fear . . . the adrenaline, it was a drug, an addiction he encouraged, enjoyed. His courage a natural emotion; an emotion others often referred to as fanatical. His indifference to danger always a threat to his physical health. Knew he would suffer a terminal case of boredom if his life were different . . . if he didn’t live so close to death.

This was a different fear, a segregated fear, altered. Something he’d never felt before. The fear pumped through Solo’s limbs, his heart pounding, the anxiety cinching tight around his chest, churning through his gut. His breathing irrational, he couldn’t see the threat and he knew with a feeling of dread . . . he couldn’t stop what he couldn’t see. Couldn’t fight against a supernatural occurrence. Felt a kinship with the U.N.C.L.E. agent who had fled the building, empathized with the man’s fear.

“Napoleon?”

Lifted his fingertips to his lips, the flesh cold, the touch lingering . . . a souvenir. “Something touched me.”

“How hard did you hit your head?”

“Hard enough to make it hurt,” said Solo, a hint of annoyance in his tone, Kuryakin’s accusation chasing his fear into a corner, his anger and frustration taking centre stage. His truth not believed, Kuryakin was taking the same direction he had when Solo had almost died at the hands of a living creature that was a mixture of human, animal and artificial parts; the robot that wasn’t a robot. No one had believed him then, not until evidence in the form of the female robot-not-robot lay on a dissection table, an autopsy revealing the truth of Solo’s words.

His assortment of emotions growing, Solo was ready to find the microchip and leave, solitude needed, a cold martini wanted. Used the wall behind him as a crutch, pushing his body up into a vertical position. Waited. A few elongated minutes. The vertigo failing to return, no longer a threat, Solo felt ready to take on the World . . . as long as the World didn’t fight back. As long as the ghost didn’t make any more advances toward him, no longer touching him with a physical force, a cold touch.

A ghost.

It had to be a ghost, nothing physical to prove otherwise. No evidence to prove him wrong. He wasn’t losing his mind, his sanity folding and breaking beneath the weight of violence and brutality his job created. His mind felt intact, nothing missing, everything making sense . . . except this. This made no sense. If . . . if he was losing his mind, he hadn’t been aware of it, not until now. If his sanity was making a successful escape, a slow leak dripping into a congregated mess, his life, his career was over, nothing left for him to do but die from a incurable case of mind numbing boredom.

He couldn’t stop now, too much at stake. He couldn’t pack up his aches, his pains and return home to medicate his mind and body with a healthy dose of alcohol, dulling his sanity and blocking its escape. He didn’t want to announce a retreat, leaving the basement before his partner could make a sensible argument to stay and complete their assignment. Didn’t want to run screaming from the asylum and into the waiting arms of a straightjacket, a white, padded room ready and willing to accommodate his insanity.

He could do this. He had to do this. He had to continue with the assignment. If he stopped now . . . a gnawing doubt created. A doubt that would eat away at the back of his mind until his fears became genuine, a reality he couldn’t live with, driven to a different kind of insanity. Decision made. A deep, shuddering breath. Turned away from the wall to find Kuryakin watching him, a mixed expression of patience and doubt on his features.

“Let’s get this over with,” said Solo, moving toward his partner and the door separating them from a different kind of reality, its contents enough to drive any man insane. “Before I run screaming from the building.”

.
.
.

The hidden room looked much larger than the first. A contradiction in comparison, it seemed to run almost the full length of the asylum, its depths of darkness long and threatening. From the open doorway, the beam of Kuryakin’s flashlight made a valiant attempt to make a visible pathway, the effort disappointing, the dark too thick to penetrate, visibility diminished.

The darkness was blinding.

They hesitated in the doorway, the entrance claustrophobic, cramped, neither man ready to rush into an environment they couldn’t recognize, so obvious the flashlight would not be enough. There could be anyone hidden within, threats unseen. It was risk . . . a risk they had taken many times before; this should be no different, only a good plan needed.

Kuryakin turned his head, so close to his partner, his gaze studying Solo’s features. “Do you have a plan?”

The adrenaline of excitement missing, the natural fear only a mentally stable man would feel didn’t flutter through Solo’s stomach. Instead, kept still by a fear so strong, his determination to carry on fading, his mind filling with a sense of gloom so thick . . . he couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Tried to push away the fear so he could think. Couldn’t. He’d never been in this kind of situation before, his fear so controlling, so debilitating. Something was wrong, his instinct screaming at him to run. He couldn’t. Knew Kuryakin wouldn’t follow him. Knew with a certainty that his partner would carry on with the assignment. Couldn’t allow Illya to do it alone.

Think of something.

“Turn on the light switch?”

Rolling his eyes, Kuryakin said, “If only I had thought of that.”

“If you were me, you would have,” said Solo, reaching around the doorframe, his fingers stumbling across the wall in search of a light switch. There was no switch, nothing to chase away the darkness. Reached past Kuryakin to search the wall on the other side. Nothing.

“You could stay here while I go in and look for the microchip.”

“My fears are founded, Illya.”

Kuryakin frowned. “You’re afraid?”

Yes.

“I’m so glad you didn’t say ‘scared’,” said Solo. “That word takes on an entirely different meaning.”

“Not in a dictionary.”

“That’s what I like about you, Illya,” said Solo, keeping his gaze forward, his expression betraying a grimace of hurt. “The way you support your partner in a moment of crisis.”

“Ghosts don’t exist, Napoleon.”

“Yes, you’ve said that already.”

“Then we should get on with it,” said Kuryakin.

Swallowing his fear, his mouth dry, Solo said, “Whenever you’re ready, Illya.”

“Why me?”

Understanding Kuryakin was grappling with his own fear, Solo smiled. “Because you have the only flashlight.”

“Where is your flashlight?”

Patting his chest, his pockets, Solo shrugged, muscles in his back twitching with pain. “Must have left it in the car.”

“How convenient of you.”

“Smart American,” said Solo, not feeling very smart at all. In hindsight, it was a stupid thing to do, a rookie mistake. An inconvenience in a dark and gloomy atmosphere. A full moon lit the upper level of the asylum, showing them the way but down here, down in the bowels of the basement . . . it had been a mistake to leave his flashlight behind.

No longer hesitating, Kuryakin stepped into the room, beam of the flashlight in constant motion, stabbing through the darkness, the immediate area illuminated, the shadows pushed back further into the room. Turning to face Solo, he raised the light, lifted an eyebrow, questioning the senior agent. Stance patient, Kuryakin waited.

Solo’s limbs shook, a slight tremor marring his movements. Why did he find this so difficult? The bruised muscles across his back, the dull ache in his skull a simple explanation; Solo didn’t want something pushing him down another set of stairs, physically harmed a second time by something he couldn’t see . . . something he didn’t know how to fight. How do you defend yourself against a ghost?

He stepped forward into the room . . . a bout of cool air coiled around him, a gentle embrace stopping him, an invisible barrier. A tug of fear, the emotion quickly subdued. Realized he didn’t feel threatened, a strange feeling of comfort, of strength; the assurance couldn’t to stop the chill, the goose bumps as they traversed his flesh, an unreadable roadmap crossing his skin. Held his breath. Shivered, the tremor in his limbs growing. Solo felt unbalanced, about to fall over. Lifted his arms, fingers . . . his grip finding the doorframe, the strength used turning his knuckles white. He held on . . .

“What are you waiting for, Napoleon?”

So close, almost a physical touch . . . a low, soft moan, a calming sound. Words spoken, like the crunch of gravel, difficult to understand. The sound repeated. A second attempt to make sense, to make Solo understand.

go back

The words succinct, they stuck in his mind . . . go back . . . go back . . . go back. Confident it was a warning, a mirrored response to his own instincts, Solo let go of the doorframe and stepped back, a return to the smaller room. Solo blinked, the chill gone, a rush of warm air flushing his features. Sweat formed on his forehead, the back of his neck. The vibration in his limbs refused to leave, his limbs still shaking with fear and confusion.

A soft caress on the side of his face, cold fingers touching his skin, drawing out the heat from his flesh . . . the touch no longer a comfort. His fear grew, an instinctual feeling grinding at the back of his skull, his flesh tingling with the need to run. They had to leave . . . now, certain they would be safe once they returned to the ground floor of the asylum.

“Napoleon?”

“We have to leave,” said Solo, standing to the side, creating enough room for his partner to escape. “Now!”

“Leaving is not an option,” said Kuryakin as he turned away from Solo and moved further into the room, the darkness swallowing his form, the beam of the flashlight the only thing marking Kuryakin’s location. Words tossed back over his shoulder. “We can’t let that information fall into the hands of Thrush.”

“Don’t question me, Illya! We have to le--”

An unexpected and violent strength slammed into Solo’s back throwing him forward, his upper body hitting the doorframe, the force of the blow pulling a grunt of surprise and pain from Solo. No time to recover, a second strike, as painful as the first, threw Solo back into the larger room. Arms outstretched he tried to stop his fall, everything moving so quickly, the landing almost as painful as the previous one. A different impact site. A groan escaping, a second release of pain, Solo struggled to change position, rolling over onto his back. His movements slow, awkward, he forced his way back up onto his feet, too much time taken.

Ignoring the pain, the shortness of breath, Solo rushed toward the open doorway. Not quick enough, the door snapped shut. He stumbled to a stop, palms against the door, strength used to push against its resistance. Stepped back, not too far, the lack of light a serious problem.

Called to his partner. “Illya!”

Not waiting for a response, his shoulder leading the way, Solo moved forward, quick, confident, his right shoulder slamming into the door, the collision creasing his features with pain. Repeated his efforts. There was no give, the door refusing to surrender. Considered using the heel of his right foot. Decided against it. If he missed the target . . . his heel making contact with something else, his foot would give way under the impact. The result a twisted ankle, a broken foot.

Even a highly competent agent would find it difficult to run screaming from the bowels of a haunted asylum with a broken or twisted ankle. He would have to stumble, limp and crawl his way through the building; a painful and excruciatingly slow escape. His efforts a source of amusement for whatever occupied the basement. It would follow him, no rush, the agent too slow to escape the building or its laughter.

Not the way he wanted to spend Halloween.

Solo stepped back, unsure of what to do next. Everything so still. So quiet . . . so dark, the only sound, Solo’s harsh breathing, his chest tight with fear, his lungs fighting for each breath. Tried to calm his mind, his sanity. Tried to think.

“Illya!”

Fear for his partner grew, Kuryakin not responding to Solo’s calls. He wanted to turn around, search for the beam of the flashlight. Something stopped him, keeping him still, mind frantic with worry. If he turned and saw only darkness . . . He wouldn’t be able to find his way in the dark, disorientation quickly forming, unable to reacquaint himself with the door, the only way out; pretty damn certain there wasn’t an alternative escape route. He would have to rely on touch, fingers stretching outward, too afraid of what he would find . . . more afraid of what would find him.

Behind Solo, the sound of footsteps, a repetition of previous events. Expected a soft touch, a cold caress against his flesh. The beam of Kuryakin’s flashlight, frantic in its movements, lit up the doorway, shadows created. Keeping his gaze away from the shadows, Solo hung his head in relief. Turned to face his partner.

Kuryakin, his expression full of surprise and uncertainty, said, “You closed the door?”

“No,” said Solo, lifting his head, gaze staring into the light . . . if he looked toward the shadows . . . turned back to face the door.

Kuryakin stepped up beside his partner. “Thrush?”

“I’m sure they would have shot first and closed the door later.”

“A strong breeze?”

Clutching at straws.

“Does it feel like someone’s left a window open?” said Solo, folding his arms across his chest, his frustration and impatience growing to breaking point. Ready to snap, to argue against every word, every movement. One of his most endearing personality traits was failing him, his patience making a hasty withdrawal. Turned his head to look at Kuryakin, a flicker of hope. “Is there a window open?”

“No.”

A release of breath, any thought of another way out disrupted, shut down, his expectations not disappointed, already aware of what his partner’s answer would be. Solo stepped forward, closer to the door, gaze searching for an attachment that would open it. A handle, a lock, anything. Nothing. No way out, it reminded Solo of a cell door, no way to open it from the inside. They were stuck, held prisoner, a captive audience to whatever haunted the basement.

Mind in turmoil, thoughts rambling, he remembered something Illya had said earlier. Thirteen of the asylum’s patients were murdered in this very basement. The memory, the play on words, caused the fear to rumble through him, his body reacting, shaking. If one ghost could cause him so much trouble, inflict so much pain . . . if this basement held the revenge of thirteen people, their lives taken in such a violent manner . . . he didn’t anticipate a successful conclusion to their situation.

“But there is another door,” said Kuryakin.

“Was that meant to be a joke?”

“Napoleon, would I joke at a time like this?”

“I would be disappointed if you didn’t.”

“Why did you close the door?”

“I told you,” said Solo through a clenched jaw. “I didn’t close the door.”

“Then someone else did.”

“Not someone. Something.”

“Napoleon!” Flicked the light towards Solo’s features, a quick study. “You’re bleeding.”

Solo frowned, concentrated on the pain. His body so full, everything hurt, the aches accumulating, a long list of grievances he didn’t want to attend to; they could wait, escape his main focus. They couldn’t stay here, their lives threatened, another physical attack inevitable. They had to leave. Now.

“What happened?” said Kuryakin as he retrieved a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, handing it over to Solo.

Solo took it without argument. “Where?”

Kuryakin reached forward, forefinger of his right hand interrupting Solo’s personal space. Solo leaned back, more a reaction than anything else. Kuryakin sighed. “Above your left eyebrow, close to the hairline. What happened, Napoleon?”

He pressed the handkerchief against his forehead, a sharp twinge of pain. Why hadn’t he noticed that before? Must have hit his head . . . again. It still hurt, the dull, thick ache still living in the back of his skull. A distant thought . . . did he have a concussion, a delusional episode, the overactive ghost existing only in his mind. No. A concussion hadn’t thrown him against a doorframe. It hadn’t thrown him down a flight of stairs, his journey rough, painful. No, this wasn’t the result of a head injury. It was the result of a ghost that didn’t have anything better to do with its afterlife than harass and assault friendly, competent U.N.C.L.E. agents

“Napoleon?”

He didn’t want to reveal the truth to his friend. Didn’t want to see the continued disbelief on Kuryakin’s features. He didn’t want his sanity questioned. “Where’s the other door?”

Kuryakin hesitated, his gaze steady, an unrelenting stare. “Back this way.”

“Lead on MacDuff.”

Expected a question, a demand for answers, for Solo to explain his situation, to explain why he was bruised and bleeding but Kuryakin only nodded in acceptance and turned away, a slow process as he moved through the darkness, flashlight leading the way. A sigh of relief, Solo grateful for his friend’s lack of concern; not an uncommon thing, Kuryakin reserved in his emotions, rarely showing any concern toward his partner.

Solo followed his friend further into the basement . . .

A flash of light, blinding in its intensity, lit up the room.

Stopping in surprise, Solo flinched, eyes snapping shut as he turned his head away, nowhere to escape. Pain spiked through his skull, his headache increasing, rising to a level he could barely tolerate.

Blinked out just as quickly.

A second flash, just as bright, just as debilitating. His vision swimming with moisture, his brain clenching with pain. The vertigo returned, nudging at his consciousness. If he collapsed now . . . drew in a deep breath. Balance lost, Solo stumbled, catching himself on a solid object. No. Not solid, flesh giving way beneath his touch.

Solo froze, muscles clenching with fear, limbs taught with tension.

“Illya?”

The light flashed on, long enough for Solo to see, to recognise what was supporting his weight, the crutch that kept him from falling. A man stood in front of Solo; more dead than alive, wearing only skin so pale, translucent, ugly blue veins swollen beneath the skin. There were no injuries, nothing marked his skin to show cause of death and he was dead, Solo knew it, he could see it . . . feel the death in this man’s flesh. The milk white eyes stared at Solo, stared through him, unaware of Solo’s presence. His mouth opened, his teeth damaged, broken . . . black with rot.

Soft words spoken. A dry, scratching sound.

go back

The light flicked off.

The darkness so thick, his hand still gripped the man’s shoulder. Let go and stepped back, his mind yelling at him, instinct expecting a withdrawal but he couldn’t move beyond the step he’d taken. Given another warning, he didn’t know what to do. Too afraid to stay where he was. Too afraid to go back. There was no escape back there, the door a solid obstacle. Too afraid to move further into the room, to find the second door hiding somewhere deep in the basement.

Where the hell was Illya?

The light flashed. Reminded of a camera. As though someone stood to one side, taking photos, an observation collected through pictures. A flash bulb used; its strength so strong it filled the room for seconds at a time.

The man was gone, shadows taking his place. Solo took the opportunity to search the room, an attempt to find his wayward partner. Not enough time, the darkness quick to return . . . not enough time to find Illya, to capture the contents of the room, to take notice of any exits that would lead them to safety.

Solo was alone, his partner disappearing for the second time. Alone with the things that haunted the basement of an insane asylum. His thoughts wandered; confused they lost their way. He was losing his own sanity, feeling the need to purchase his own straightjacket. He didn’t understand what was happening, the existence of ghosts so hard to believe . . . until now.

The light flashed. A few seconds of clarity. Of vision.

Something caught Solo’s eye. A dark shadow . . . a human form . . .

It moved, slow at first and then it flew through the basement, back and forth, quick and violent, now an unrecognisable shape of darkness and shadows. It moved at a speed too hard to follow, Solo quickly losing sight of it.

Darkness returned.

So still.

A flash of light, its brightness permanent. He could see everything. Everyone.

A baker’s dozen stood before him, a mixture of men and women; a compilation of asylum residents gathered in the centre of the basement. All dead. Thirteen victims of violent death. A variety of ages, their expressions were curious, fearful as they watched him, their gaze a steady intrusion. The silence in the room interrupted when they began to speak, voices whispered, words stumbling, a conversation Solo couldn’t understand.

The voices travelled, a solid motion, erupting inside his skull.

Solo doubled over, hands gripping his skull, fingers clenched as the nails dug into flesh. He wanted to scream, the pain so bad. Breath harsh as he struggled to breathe, Solo groaned, the sound drawn through gritted teeth.

The volume of noise eased, the pain relenting its grip. Words now understood.

GO BACK

Solo wanted to listen to the warning. He wanted to run toward safety but he couldn’t. He couldn’t leave his partner behind. “Illya!”

His audience grew quiet, the silence so abrupt . . . so daunting. Moving as one entity, they turned their heads, looking toward the right side of the basement. The sight so unsettling, Solo felt a chill run along his spine, a tremor, rough in its manner, shook his limbs.

More difficult than it should have been, Solo pulled his gaze away, turning to look . . .

A movement of darkness on the wall of the elongated basement, shadows converging, an unnatural embrace held too long, the edges blurred, difficult to determine where it began and where it concluded. The shadows separated, cracks in the darkness, the bright light filtering through the fissures, an artistic show of light on the wall behind it.

Shapes began to form, a slow creation of limbs, stretching in length: arms, legs, a torso. Easy to recognize, the figure too human to be anything else, a human structure of darkness, of shadows. It stood still . . . motionless long enough to suggest a falsified apparition. Long enough for Solo to believe it wasn’t possible . . . it wasn’t real.

It moved forward, away from the wall, a disconnection and shuffled closer to Solo, no steps taken, only a sense of progress as it continued to move.

Closer.

He couldn’t move, the fear clambering up his spine; a hungry emotion it ate through his courage, biting deep into his chest, freezing his lungs . . . his breath.

Something pulled him forward, stopping Solo from allowing his own basic instincts control of his faculties. He couldn’t turn away. It took away all his common sense, leaving him stranded in a situation that felt so wrong . . . so very, very wrong. He kept moving in the wrong direction, toward the threat, stopping only when he reached the edge of shadows. So close, he reached out - mind screaming at him to stop – touching the dark shape.

It snapped at Solo, rushed around him, through him. It left a concrete impression. A sudden chill in his bones, his muscles twitching and cramping from the cold. Managed to take a breath, the chill entering his lungs, a burning sensation.

Gasping for breath, Solo felt the touch of others. The dead had gathered around him, their hands, fingers . . . touching him, brushing flesh where they could reach, combing through his hair, gripping the back of his neck. Palms pressed against his shoulders, his back, his chest . . . tugging at his clothing. A returning touch, soft against his lips. Mouth forced open, the air pulled from his lungs. He couldn’t breathe, everything taken from him. Held a prisoner in his own mind, his sanity ready to flee toward safety.

He couldn’t leave his partner, couldn’t allow Illya to become the next victim. Solo struggled to free his body from their grip, their hands, their touch too strong . . . their touch exhausted him, his energy depleted, his consciousness faltering.

A different kind of darkness pushed against his mind, his consciousness draining, falling away.

The light went out, darkness filling the basement.

Solo quickly followed its example. Consciousness lost, he fell to the floor.

.
.
.

Voices screaming, begging for mercy . . . for death. A guttural cry. Pain tore through his body. Fear curled in his gut, his chest tight and his breath too short, too rapid. He struggled to think, to remember . . . to determine his situation. A second bout of pain brought him to an obvious assumption. A fear of torture. A fear of recrimination if he refused to reveal vital information. A fear he didn’t understand, always so confident he could withstand the pain, the torture . . . the emotional aftermath.

He’d been through it before, too many times, expectations always met, each time worse than the last, his body growing older, not as resistant to the physical pain. U.N.C.L.E. training always gave him the advantage, mind programmed to resist, not giving in and releasing the information they wanted, their efforts becoming desperate, more painful. Part of his job, acceptance made a long time ago.

This time . . . it felt different. Wrong. It didn’t feel real, more like a dream . . . a nightmare.

The screams intensified, not an exaggeration; they were suffering, tortured beyond their endurance. Not the only prisoner, not alone in the suffering of pain, Solo knew beyond any doubt he was a part of a group, a combined capture, more than one agent. More opportunities to gain information; knowledge that can be turned around and used against U.N.C.L.E.

He was unsure of its creation, no memory to explain the violent situation they were in . . . no memory of the assignment, of failure . . . of capture. But he knew one thing. He wasn’t going to concede. He wasn’t going to give them what they wanted. He would rely on his training, his programming . . .

Another eruption of pain. Limbs twitching, his body began to convulse. Hands on his body, holding him down, an insufficient attempt to keep him still. Opened his mouth, a scream catching in his throat, a hand over his mouth, the sound smothered. His body calmed, became still, his limbs lethargic . . . weak.

Opened his eyes . . .

Faces above him, unrecognizable in death, their eyes white.

A part of his nightmare?

Thrush becoming a little too creative in their attempts to gain information from uncooperative U.N.C.L.E. agents?

Solo didn’t think so. His mind not that imaginative. Thrush not that creative.

A new enemy? A new drug? A hallucinogenic?

And then he remembered . . .

Struggled to get up, to get away. Dozens of hands applied more pressure, more strength to keep him in place. He couldn’t gain enough movement, enough purchase to escape, heels of his shoes scraping against the floor of the basement.

A woman, childlike in her features, her frail body lacking any clothing, bent over his upper body, her face so close to Solo. There was no breath, her lungs still. She pressed her lips against his cheek, dry tongue scratching across his skin, a chilled touch, his body shivering from the cold. Unaware he was giving her more access he turned his head away.

She spoke, a tormented sound, giving him a fourth warning.

go back

The light exploded, a sudden disappearance, the darkness so thick he could no longer see the dead. His heart pounded against his ribs, his gut twisting with fear, with something he couldn’t comprehend. He wanted to run . . . he needed to run, to escape. Where was Illya?

A violent scream, a long stuttering sound.

Hands removed from his body, his mouth, the touch gone, his body released. Solo stumbled to his feet, an awkward and slow movement, vertigo playing with his balance. He fell back down, onto hands and knees, his head slumped between his shoulders. His head ached, a beating pulse of pain. Collapsed onto his left side, his gun digging into his ribs, a painful pressure against bone. No energy to move.

A bright light flickered across his eyelids, features grimacing at the bolt of pain shooting through his skull. Even in this position, his body horizontal, it made him feel dizzy . . . sick. Common sense told Solo he was suffering from a concussion. He required medical assistance, treatment, the evidence telling him none of this was real, a delusion . . . the concussion creating horrific images in an attempt to play with his mind, his sanity. It was working.

Tried to remind himself the first physical attack had happened while he was still healthy, while his head, his mind was still intact. A moment of doubt. Was Illya right? Had he simply tripped, his flight down the stairs caused by his own clumsy attitude, too confident he could find his own way without the assistance of a flashlight.

He felt confused, unsure. Had he lost his mind? Was he just trying to convince himself that he was sane, making excuses, creating a protective cocoon, his sanity comforted? He didn’t know. Not anymore. Had no idea what it felt like to lose your mind.

Did know he had to leave . . . no longer sure, he was capable of leaving. No longer sure, he could go back. Not without help. Not without someone physically supporting his weight. He didn’t want someone to carry him out of the basement but he was aware that he needed help to get out. To go back. To heed their warning, something he should have done sooner.

Where was Illya?

Something crept across his skin, the flesh of his face, his neck . . . his hands, the touch echoing over his skin, in his mind. A sensory exploration. It felt like his skin was burning, the touch so cold. A feeling of revulsion, of disgust. His stomach churned with nausea, fear, bile rising into his throat, his breath caught in his lungs, a painful obstruction.

A more direct touch, fingers digging into the flesh of his neck, the pressure bruising, building. He couldn’t breathe. Suffocation a real possibility, Solo tried to roll onto his back, to gain more control. Raised his hands to grips those around his throat, nothing there . . . nothing solid. He could feel his own skin, the indentations in his flesh . . . nothing to indicate it was real. But he could feel its grip, its strength . . . his own lack of breath.

How do you fight something that isn’t solid? How do you fight what you can’t see?

Doubt crawled back into his mind.

Was it happening? Another illusion? He didn’t know. Wasn’t sure, he still cared. He could let go . . . possible he would wake up later, a different location, his situation corrected, his life normal or as normal as his life could be.

Lungs began to struggle, to fight for air. An impossible task. Solo understood, his mind patiently explaining his situation. Acceptance was quick to follow. He was dying; certain death was reaching for him once again, licking its thin, dry lips in preparation.

Then it was over. Not in the way, he thought it would end.

A quick release, as though it had grown bored, no longer in the mood to play with its victim. A soft caress, a lingering touch before slowly moving away. Solo drew in a sharp, painful breath, a violent cough, his chest so tight. His body began to relax, the tension easing from his muscles, his limbs. Lungs grateful with every breath taken, a sign of life.

He wasn’t dead . . .

But he could still feel it, its presence hovering over him . . . waiting.

It wasn’t over.

A voice in the distance, his name called.

“Napoleon!”

It moved further away, drifting at the edge of his subconscious. Still waiting.

“Napoleon?”

Solo blinked, turned his gaze toward his partner’s voice. Beam of the flashlight too bright, he shifted his gaze away. In shadows created by the light, it stood watching Solo. Fear gripped his chest as it moved forward, back toward him . . . too much speed involved. It snapped to the left, deviating from its original course, moving into the distance, out of his sight, disappearing back into the darkness.

Hands on his shoulders, shifting his position, turning him onto his back.

He looked up at his partner. “Where were you?”

“Looking for the kitchen sink,” said Kuryakin. “You, as usual, got lost.”

“We have to leave.”

“What happened this time?” said Kuryakin, aiming the light over Solo, the beam travelling Solo’s body in search of injuries.

A release of breath, his fear evident, Solo said, “We have to leave.”

“We still haven’t found the microchip.”

“There is no microchip.”

No one, not even a highly experienced secret agent, would be able to stay down here long enough to hide a microchip. A fear so strong would have them running from the building, echoes of their screams following them down a dark and lonely road as they raced toward safety, their sanity – wearing its own straightjacket - not far behind, making every effort to catch up.

“Napoleon,” said Kuryakin, tone full of patience, if not understanding, “the information comes from a very reliable source.”

Solo struggled to move, to get up . . . to go back. Pushed with his hands, some progress made before his elbows buckled beneath his weight. His upper body caught before he hit the ground, Kuryakin wrapping his right arm around the back of Solo’s shoulders, keeping him upright, lifting him up into a sitting position.

“We have to leave.”

“Not without the microchip.”

“We have to leave.”

“You’re being irritatingly repetitive, Napoleon,” said Kuryakin.

“Trust me.”

“I do.”

“Then trust me when I say we have to go back.”

Kuryakin paused, allowed the light to travel over Solo’s form once more. An abrupt stop, bruising revealed.
Purples and reds, dark beneath the skin, in the shape of a hand, the fingers long, the bruises stretching around Solo’s throat. An incorrect assumption made. “Thrush?

“Ghost.”

“Get up, Napoleon.”

“We need to leave.”

“We’re leaving.”

“We have to go back.”

“The other door isn’t locked.”

“No,” said Solo as he shook his head. “They keep telling me to go back.”

“Who?”

He wasn’t going to tell him.

“Napoleon.”

“We have to leave.”

“Repetitive,” said Kuryakin. “It means monotonous, boring, mundane, and tiresome.”

Solo turned his head, glared at his partner. “Would you like me to explain the practical meaning of a punch in the mouth?”

“Before or after we leave?”

Release of breath, comprehension dawning, his friend creating a distraction, finding a way to ease Solo’s fear, to get him out of a rut, the hole so deep he couldn’t escape without help. He began to move, to struggle up onto unsteady limbs, Kuryakin pushing him from behind, a supportive prop. Recent bouts of vertigo creating distrust, Solo tested his balance, stepping away from his friend. Knees threatened to give way, his body betraying him. A deep breath, the feeling of weakness passing.

“Here,” said Kuryakin, offering his shoulder as a means of support.

Too stubborn, too eager to get out, Solo shook his head. “Which way?”

Kuryakin lifted the flashlight, its direction confident as it highlighted the door. Solo frowned. He hadn’t realized he was still so close to the door. More surprising . . . it stood open. The way to freedom no longer blocked.

Wasn’t going to ask why.

Stepped forward. Still safe. Still standing. Another step, felt more confident . . . something filtered across the back of his neck, the chill spreading through his limbs. A touch now so familiar. Knowledge gained, previous events giving him an advance warning, Solo aware something was about to happen.

Not again.

Didn’t think he would be able to get back up, body too weary, already in too much pain. Tension filling his body, anxiety curdling his stomach, Solo moved forward, away from the touch, hoping to stop the inevitable . . . too late.

Enough strength used, a blast of cold air against his back, a physical touch threw him forward. Someone . . . something was helping him on his way, no longer wanted or needed. Illya would have to consider it as proof, an explanation from Solo no longer required, Illya making his own observations, his own conclusions. Solo fell face first, momentum kept him moving, body sliding across the floor, stopping when he hit the blunt edge of the doorframe. For a moment, it felt as though his collarbone had broken beneath the onslaught, the new pain filtering through the old, an odd combination, a nauseating feeling.

Solo had had enough. He was ready to go home.

He just had to get back up.

Flexed his left arm, a stab of pain through his shoulder, the bone not broken. It was something, a small amount of luck on his side. Jerked back when fingers gripped his jacket, pulling him up and pushing him through the open doorway. He tried to fight back, to push away the threat.

“Napoleon!”

Legs collapsed with relief. No time given to recover, Kuryakin pulling him back, dragging him toward the stairs. Feet heavy, clumsy, Solo stumbled, his friend the only thing keeping him from going down. A soft caress flowing over his skin forced him forward, up the stairs, almost crawling in his haste to get away. Kuryakin stayed with him, beside him, giving support where needed, the beam from the flashlight bouncing back and forth, rebounding off the walls. Seconds felt like minutes, time passing slowly, a leisurely pace.

Top of the stairs finally reached, Solo’s hope of escape grew. Didn’t want to stop. Didn’t want to catch his breath, his lungs tight, his breath harsh, the pain in his skull, his limbs growing. If they stopped . . . refused to think about what could happen . . . what had happened. Concern growing, he began to wonder why escape was so easy. So much trouble, violence in the basement and now . . . it couldn’t be this easy, expectation nagging at the back of his mind. Something was going to happen, a creative ending, Solo was certain.

They travelled the length of the asylum’s empty hallways, everything left bare, easy to find their way, the moonlight still bright. Solo clung onto his partner, fingers gripping Kuryakin’s jacket sleeve. He didn’t want to lose his friend, to leave him behind to face a similar fate. No understanding as to why the ghosts had fixated on him, no acknowledgment shown toward Kuryakin.

Too many shadows danced over the walls, the floor of the building; too many opportunities for it to reveal itself, to execute another attack. So far, their escape uninterrupted, tension began to ease from his limbs, his shoulders. He began to feel safe. Knew it was a mistake, safety still a short distance away.

Something drew Solo back, legs heavy, his body slowed, feet shuffling to a stop. Kuryakin continued on, taking a few seconds to realize Solo was no longer with him. Coming to an abrupt stop, Kuryakin turned to look for his partner, watching him with concern and fear.

Solo turned, facing the way they had come. In the distance, at the end of the hallway, it stood in the shadows. A step taken, it moved forward, gathering speed, gaining ground.

“Run,” said Solo.

Taking his own advice, his body reluctant, Solo ran, his partner already moving. Didn’t look back to see if it was following them. The front exit so close, he could see the main doors . . . like the door in the basement they were open; a gaping cavern of darkness. This wasn’t right, something seriously wrong. Why was it allowing them to leave? Why was it letting him go? Didn’t stop to think why it wasn’t controlling his movements as it had done in the basement. It could keep him still, waiting, but it didn’t.

They ran out into the night, the fresh air breathing against Solo’s skin, cooling the heat of his flesh. Confident it wouldn’t follow him into the night, he ran down the set of stairs leading to the large, overgrown grounds of the asylum, Solo fighting to keep his balance, the stairs beneath his feet unstable.

When they reached solid ground, Solo collapsed, allowing his body to hit the ground. Rolled onto his back, chest heaving as he breathed and closed his eyes. He thought it was over. Certain he was free of the thing living in a room set deep within the bowels of an abandoned insane asylum.

Dropping to the ground beside Solo, Kuryakin kept his gaze on the open doorway, fear crossing his features when the doors slammed shut, body jerking with surprise when the sound echoed toward them. Turned his head, looked at his partner and said, “How are we going to explain this to Mr. Waverly?”

Solo didn’t care, too concerned about why he was still alive. Too confused as to why it had let him go. He was still alive, bruising and a headache his only injuries. His sanity, only slightly fractured, was still intact, straightjacket not required. He’d survived a terrifying encounter, his friend by his side.

He wanted to know why it had let him go.



The End.



Master Fan Fiction List

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