|Previously on ' Man From
"Good morning, Sir."
"Mr Solo, please take a seat."
"When you called...."
"I'm afraid I have some bad news. Mr Kuryakin's car was found in a remote spot just outside Paris. The post-mortem of the driver identified the charred remains as Illya's. This ring... it's his, I believe."
"I'm very, very sorry, Napoleon."
~ ~ ~
Two months later
"So tell me, Andreus, what does Thrush want with Claude De Vris? He's a mad millionaire, nothing more."
"Napoleon, Napoleon, shame on you! Where have you been?"
"Busy, as you know."
"Yes, well.... This should interest you then. Rumour has it that Mr De Vris has had a houseguest for some considerable time. A gorgeous blond they say. Apparently, he's had his fun and now he's selling the blond to Thrush for a considerable price."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The Final Affair
Act I - "They made me believe you were dead."
"Mr Solo," Claude De Vris reached out, shook Napoleon's hand. "I'm so glad Thrush agreed to my not inconsiderable sum."
Napoleon kept his anger reigned tightly, taking the offered hand but not smiling. "If the... package is as good as you say it is, the sum isn't nearly high enough."
De Vris nodded. "It is certainly as good, if not better."
"And in excellent condition of course. It's no use to us if it breaks the moment it is put under pressure."
Solo didn't miss the dark expression that flashed momentarily across the Frenchman's face. "Of course, of course. Um... if you will excuse me a moment...."
"No." The false politeness was gone. "Thrush is very impatient to get our hands on this man. Take me to him."
"And the money...."
"Once I've satisfied myself we're not buying a corpse."
Solo followed De Vris out into a large cobbled courtyard in the middle of his sprawling estate. Dead centre, he stopped and crouched down. Napoleon hovered at the man's shoulder and saw the large, rusted metal ring that De Vris had pulled up from a curved valley in the cobbles. Only when the heavy, circular stone trapdoor started to lift did Napoleon actually see it.
There was a narrow metal ladder just inside, but De Vris dropped the six feet to the inside of the underground cell.
"We call it an 'oubliette'," he explained to Napoleon as Solo too dropped into the darkness. "We put people here to forget about them."
The moment his feet touched the stone floor of the small, circular room, the nauseating stench hit Napoleon hard. He gagged, choking back the reflex.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the damp darkness. But when they did, he reached out, clawed his fingers in De Vris' fine grey hair and smashed his head once and without warning against the edge of the ladder as hard as his rage would allow him to.
The Frenchman crumpled silently.
Napoleon dropped to his knees next to the emaciated body of the man he'd thought was dead.
By the light streaming in at the top of the ladder he could see Illya's bruised and bloodied chest rising and falling with the shallow, pitiful breaths the man was taking.
He'd been dumped by the looks of it, once De Vris' men had finished with him. His wrists were fastened by manacles and chains to the wall, as were his ankles, despite it being obvious that he was in no state to attempt an escape.
"Illya. Oh God...."
A quick search of the dead Frenchman's pockets came up with a set of small keys. It was still difficult to see in the gloom but as Napoleon worked the manacles open, he mapped the injuries that were immediately obvious.
Two broken fingers as well as lacerations to arms, chest and legs. Dark bruises mottling what Solo could see of the fair - now pale - skin.
Illya's lips were cut and swollen. His nose had possibly been broken; it had bled copiously, over his lips and left cheek. He was still in pants and shirt, although the pants were filthy and the once-white shirt red with blood.
Napoleon removed the manacles from Illya's wrists, horrified to see the raw flesh when the cuffs came off.
Next he freed the ankles, a sound of helplessness torn from his throat when he saw the white of the anklebone through the bloody mess.
Scrambling on his knees up beside his partner, Solo slid his hand under Illya's neck and lifted it. The blond head lolled back sickeningly.
"Illya? Come on. Just give me a sign you're still in there. Illya?"
He heard nothing more from the parched lips except each painful breath, but he could make out shouting in the courtyard above him. Rising to his feet, leaning down, he took his gun from his jacket and scooped his friend's body up into his arms. Illya was ridiculously light.
He manoeuvred his ward over his shoulder as gently as he could and started up the ladder - the only way out of the stone bunker.
As he poked his head above ground a bullet whizzed passed his ear and hit the stones behind him. He brought up his own gun and fired twice with deadly accuracy. Two men dropped and the court fell silent for a precious few seconds. Napoleon hoisted himself and Illya out of the cell, inadvertently cracking the blond head on the edge of the circular hole on the way up.
He didn't have time to worry or apologise, not now. He ran for the gates as fast as he could, relieved to find them open. His car was waiting in the drive.
More shouting chased them out across the pebbled driveway but Napoleon had already dumped Illya in the back seat and dropped into the driver's seat himself. He ducked instinctively when a barrage of bullets flew passed the car, one shattering the wing mirror. Still down, he pushed the key into the ignition and gunned the engine. Only once he had it running, in gear and the brake off did he lift his head just enough to see where he was going, and put his foot on the accelerator.
He drove from the estate into Paris, a journey of less than an hour but it was an hour he wasn't sure Illya had to spare. Sheer willpower had probably kept him alive thus far, a will to survive stronger than any Napoleon had ever known. But he had to know something had changed. Napoleon could hope that Illya had heard his voice, but he doubted it. As far as he knew, Illya had known only discomfort, humiliation, pain and misery for the last two months, while Napoleon had been 'losing himself' in his work. As far as Illya knew, this was yet another journey in a continuing nightmare.
He glanced back but his partner hadn't moved of his own accord. The movements of the car were throwing him gently about the black leather seat, knocking his head hard against the door.
"I'm sorry, Illya," Napoleon told him uselessly.
Paris was busy at this time in the evening. He managed to lose the two cars that had been following them from the De Vris estate and took them into the traffic, merged with the local rush hour. He turned every corner and back tracked a couple of times. After twenty minutes he was satisfied that they were no longer being followed.
"I have to make a stop, Illya," he explained, pulling the car into an alley. Up ahead a narrow walkway opened out into a square popular with locals. "I'll be back before you know it. Just wait here for me, okay?"
Not expecting an answer and not getting one, he opened the car door, checked around him and closed it again, heading silently for the square.
Napoleon was back at the car within five minutes, dropping his bundle into the passenger seat, checking quickly on Illya - still lying unmoving in the back - before backing the car into the road and heading north to Montmartre.
He chose a rundown hotel on Rue Chaptal, hoping it would be the last place, or among the last places, De Vris' men - along with any Thrush backup they'd managed to collect on the way - would check.
He paid the uninterested desk clerk five francs for a room before hauling Illya and his stolen bundle out of the car and up to the first floor of the derelict building.
The room was cold and damp but it had to be more comfortable than the cell that had been Illya's home when he'd rescued him. Locking the door - thankful it had a lock - he crossed to where he'd unceremoniously had to dump his partner again.
Sitting carefully on the mattress, he reached out to brush his hand over Illya's matted blond hair.
"Illya?" He sighed softly. "I'm going to need to clean you up and dress your wounds, all right? Be sure to tell me if I hurt you."
He pushed the bathroom door open with some trepidation, given the underlying dirt of the rest of the room. But to his surprise and relief the toilet was clean, the bath was clean and the water was lukewarm.
There was a glass next to the sink that Napoleon rinsed, filled and drank down. When the water tasted fine, he half-filled the glass this time and returned to Illya.
Perching on the bed he lifted the blond head carefully and tipped the glass to the bloody, swollen lips, pouring a little water onto them.
"You need to drink, Illya," he told his unresponsive companion. But he didn't get any assistance.
Eventually, with a great deal of patience and care, he managed to get most the water down Illya's throat and only a few drops on his chin.
First task completed, Napoleon ran a bath, leaving the tub to fill while he stripped the tattered remains of Illya's clothes from him.
The red stained shirt peeled back to reveal more evidence of torture. He wondered what they'd managed to force from Illya's lips and doubted it was anything. A truth serum was more use for getting any actual information. Torture was used for the entertainment of the abductor.
Dropping the shirt to the floor, Solo worked Illya's pants off. The fly was broken, the material stained with many fluids. He ignored the stink, working hard to fight the urge to return to De Vris' home and tear everyone there limb from limb.
"Come on, Illya," he murmured softly. "Bath time."
Very gently, sliding his hands under Illya's shoulders and knees, Napoleon lifted him, tipping his head slowly until it fell against his shoulder. He walked through to the bathroom, leaning down and testing the water running from the tap with his elbow. It was nowhere near hot. He knew he'd have to get Illya out and dry as soon as possible to prevent the possible onset of pneumonia; his partner was in no state to fight anything else right now.
He lowered the body in his arms gently into the water, a small part of him hoping for a struggle but knowing he wasn't going to get one. Illya went without a sign that he was even alive. If it hadn't been for the constant, harsh attempts for breath, Napoleon might have believed him to be dead.
He made sure Illya at least looked comfortable in the tub. There was no sponge, but there was a tattered cloth. He soaked it and began to carefully clean the dirt, blood and filth from the injured body, revealing little by little the whole story.
"They really made a mess of you this time, Vanya," he murmured softly to himself, finding some comfort in his pet name for his partner. It was Russian for 'Gift From God', or something like that. He'd picked it up - he couldn't remember where now - and Illya had translated it for him. So often he'd seen Illya standing in a cell doorway or waving a gun at Napoleon's captor of the day and he'd thought just that of him. A gift from God. Not that he deserved someone like Illya.
He pushed those thoughts away, concentrating on lavishing some TLC on his treasured Russian.
Napoleon lost count of the lacerations, some of them obviously infected. He stopped himself from tracing a pattern of small circular burns. At least the only broken bones seemed to be the two middle fingers of Illya's right hand. He needed to set them, he knew, but Illya wasn't suffering any pain right now. Napoleon didn't want to think of the pain he had endured.
"No more," he stated as he worked. "If you get through this, we're getting out, Illya. I'm leaving and I'm taking you with me."
But it was a big 'if'.
Once he'd cleaned Illya's body, he scooped up water into his cupped hands and started to wash the mess from the dirty hair. Carding wet fingers through the once silken strands again and again, he slowly brought it back to its golden colour.
Finally he washed Illya's face with his fingers, being as gentle as he could.
Then he found the only towel in the room - feeling lucky that there was one at all - and laid it out on the floor. He lifted Illya from the water and placed him on the towel, leaning him against the tub, rubbing him dry as quickly and carefully as he possibly could.
Finally he got his partner back on to the bed and with the first aid kit he'd brought from the car he started to dress each and every wound.
He started with the broken fingers, pulling on the digits to straighten them - flinching in sympathy when he heard the crack of bone even if Illya didn't even flinch - then binding them straight against the two either side. It was crude but until he could get Illya to safety and to a hospital, it would have to do.
He dressed all the other wounds, stitching where he needed to, wishing he could see some reaction to the acute pain Illya would have felt if he'd been conscious.
The cause of every mark was more than obvious to Solo, except for a collection of small puncture wounds to his throat - just above his Adam's Apple - that Napoleon didn't recognise. It was a strange place to inject any kind of drugs.
Having attended to all the injuries he could find, Napoleon took up the bundle and shook out the clothing.
The unfortunate Frenchman would hopefully have staggered home by now. Napoleon had left him with his underwear at least. He'd been the best target; alone, a little worse for drink, only a size or two larger than Illya.
Solo had dropped him with a single blow to the back of the neck, at the base of the skull. He'd stolen the man's knitted blue jumper and black corduroy pants as well as his shoes and socks, and had made sure to remove the man's wallet from his pants and tuck it into his underwear. He didn't want the man's money.
As much as he regretted the need for his actions, Illya's safety and relative comfort was Napoleon's top priority now. He would do whatever it took to save Illya's life, to take him home alive and with a fighting chance of surviving.
As Napoleon dressed his partner in the stolen clothes, he wondered with a brief smile what Illya would think of his tenderness. He could hear the beloved voice in his mind,
'Stop Mothering me, Napoleon, it doesn't suit you.'
Chuckling fondly for just a moment, he rubbed the blond hair dry, making sure he soaked up as much water from it as he could. Then he eased Illya onto his side on the bed, wrapped the single ratty blanket around him and crawled up to spoon behind him, to add his own body warmth to the scant heat of the room and the cool temperature of Illya's skin.
They couldn't afford the rest, he knew, but he needed to sleep. His collapsing from exhaustion would do Illya no good at all. It might even cost him his life and that was a price far too high to be paid.
Wrapping his arms and his body around his inert partner, he closed his eyes. But even with the initial surge of adrenaline gone from his system, Napoleon couldn't settle. Whatever relief he felt from holding Illya in his arms was mitigated by the knowledge that they were far from safe.
De Vris' men as well as Thrush would be tearing Paris apart looking for them. Before sunrise he'd have to start them on their journey again. Before they left he would contact U.N.C.L.E. and get a rendezvous point set up. He should have done it earlier but he didn't want to take the risk that someone would trace the signal and they'd end up sitting ducks in this dump of a hotel.
Without conscious thought he pressed his lips to Illya's hair, reassuring himself that his partner was alive if unconscious. If dying slowly here in his arms. Illya deserved to die somewhere better than a damp, dingy room in a rundown hotel hiding from men who'd made periods of the last few years of his life into a series of living hells.
"It's over," he murmured to Illya, to himself. "I can't do this anymore and I won't let you do it either." He sighed, turning his face and resting his cheek against the crown of Illya's head. "When did it become about saving you over saving the world? Perhaps when you became more to me than any of it. We've done enough. You deserve so much better. You deserve to be safe and happy. You deserve to love and be loved. I'm starting to think... maybe that's what I need too."
He was glad Illya couldn't hear him rambling. He wasn't certain his stoic Russian friend would appreciate the sentiment. Having said that, after what Illya had been through these last weeks, he wouldn't be looking to go back into the field anytime soon and U.N.C.L.E.'s doctors would have lengthy recuperation plans for him anyway.
Napoleon considered that. Once physically recovered, Illya could look forward to long sessions under the influence of various drugs as U.N.C.L.E. worked to find out what he'd told De Vris; what securities had been breached, which agents were in danger. Napoleon had no doubts that his partner wouldn't have given up anything no matter what they put him through. He was tough, the little Russian in his arms, but thoughts of what U.N.C.L.E. was going to do to him after everything else already done made Napoleon's fingers clutch involuntarily into the thick blue jumper.
"I won't let them, Illya," he muttered softly. "No more hurt, no more pain. It's enough."
Still his partner didn't react. He lay on his side where Napoleon had placed him. He looked small and vulnerable in the too-large clothes, hands out in front of him, fingers of his good hand slightly curled.
Reaching for it, Napoleon took that cold hand into his own and held it, willing himself to sleep, praying he wouldn't dream.
Napoleon woke suddenly but years of experience translated into instinct kept him completely still. Illya was where Napoleon had placed him. Unconscious, still wrapped gently in his partner's embrace; Solo could feel the fine blond hair against his chin.
Under the blanket, he moved slowly. His right arm was over Illya, still holding his hand. Releasing it, he tucked his own hand under the pillow and curled his fingers thankfully around the butt of his gun. The pillow muffled into silence the sound of the safety catch being released. And in one graceful arc, Solo brought the gun and his arm from under the blanket twisting onto his side as he fired once.
The bullet hit the man at the edge of the bed right between the eyes and he collapsed back without a sound.
In the flash of the gun, Solo caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Following the shadow around the end of the bed, he waited until the second man was almost level with them before firing again. Two shots. Napoleon heard his body hit the carpet.
There was more movement and it took a moment for him to realise that this time it was the man at his side.
Previously unresponsive, the gunfire had penetrated Illya's mind and something - maybe pure survival instinct - had woken him from his comatose state.
For a second, Solo felt an all-encompassing relief as he met reddened, frightened eyes in the darkness. But before he could say anything, Illya tried to get away from him.
"Whoa...." Turning, Solo reached for the switch on the shadeless bedside lamp. Too bright. Illya's light-sensitive eyes scrunched shut and his expression turned from fear to abject misery. Solo scanned the room but there was no one else - nowhere to hide. He dropped the gun to the mattress and sat up, gingerly reaching out to his partner.
"It's all right, Illya, it's me. It's Napoleon. You're safe." For now. But he didn't add the proviso. "It's all right."
Illya's mouth formed his name, tasting it. And Napoleon remembered that Illya had been abandoned, left to his fate. No 'nauseatingly punctual' rescue, no relief from the torture until his captors had tired of him and he'd been dumped down a hole to die.
Then sold to Thrush so that they could start over. But Illya didn't know that.
"They made me believe you were dead," Napoleon told him, almost pleading. "I would never have left you...."
Tears blossomed in Illya's eyes but Solo knew they were simply the body's way of trying to ease the pain. He doubted Illya had the strength to mourn everything he'd lost. Not yet.
He reached for his friend's left hand and he took it carefully, feeling the tremors driving through the pale, skinny form. Illya had just woken from a coma. He needed to be in the hospital, in a warm bed with doctors poking at him and nurses changing his saline drip every couple of hours.
Reaching for the glass on the bedside table, Napoleon assured Illya he'd be back before nipping into the bathroom to fill it.
On the bed, he helped Illya drink, easing his arm around his partner's shoulders as he tried to sit up.
Still Illya hadn't made a sound.
"Talk to me, please," Napoleon urged, "say something." He was terrified that Illya blamed him for what he'd been through.
Illya shook his head, one shaking hand rising to touch his own throat, surprised a little at the dressing he found there.
"I've done what I can, Illya. If there's something I've missed...." This time there was a shake of his head. Then those fingers were pulling at the tape Solo had used to fix the sterile patches in place. "Don't!"
But Illya succeeded in pulling one piece of tape from his skin, and Solo realised he was pointing at the puncture marks.
"What did they do to you?"
Illya just shook his head again.
With a small sigh, Napoleon pulled his hand away and eased the tape back in place.
"We have to go. They found us, I don't know how." Reluctantly, he released Illya and rolled off the bed. He pulled on his own shoes before picking up those he'd stolen from the Frenchman in the square. Illya simply watched him as he slotted the shoes on to his partner's smaller feet, pulling the laces as tight as they'd go. "Can you walk?"
Again, Illya shook his head.
De Vris' car was still outside on the street, but Napoleon couldn't risk it. De Vris' men would recognise it. Whoever had attacked them in the hotel might have bobby-trapped it. There was a battered Citroen a couple of metres down and he broke the small window on the driver's side, opened the doors and helped Illya into the passenger seat. Despite not having used his legs in a while, Illya had managed to at least assist in getting himself downstairs and out. Napoleon could read the terror in his eyes but he didn't have any time to explain. Not here. He'd done his best to reassure but he knew he'd hurt Illya in his hurry to leave the hotel.
As soon as he was in the seat, the blue eyes closed and Illya's body gave up as sheer exhaustion pulling him back into unconsciousness.
Napoleon hot wired the car with ease and pulled them away from the curb, keeping the lights off for now.
For a few minutes he had no idea where he was headed. He turned as many corners as possible, keeping watch in the rear view mirror for any company they might have. But to his surprise and suspicion it seemed as if no one was following them.
He saw a sign for the main route out of Paris heading East and took it.
Twenty minutes later they left the outskirts of the city. Assured for that for now at least they were alone, Solo pulled the car over to the side of the road. It was still dark, still early.
He looked across at Illya, whose head had lolled to one side, against the window. He didn't look comfortable but Napoleon could see his chest rising and falling and his breathing sounded easier and less painful than it had immediately after his rescue.
Cautiously, Napoleon raised his hand to reach across and stroke his knuckles through the silken hair at Illya's temple. He allowed himself a few moments of luxury - watching his partner sleeping - trying to accept that he'd been lied to.
He straightened his fingers against Illya's head, glancing at the narrow gold band that had adorned his ring finger since Waverly had told him where it had been found.
Had Waverly lied to him? Had he known that the only way to stop Napoleon risking his own life was to make him believe Illya was dead? Or had De Vris set up the car crash, the body burned beyond recognition, the ring on its finger?
Solo took a deep breath and reached for his communicator. He had little choice at the moment. lllya's only hope was medical help. Only U.N.C.L.E. could guarantee that.
There was a moment's static. "Channel-D open."
"Solo here, I need to speak to Mr Waverly."
Another pause, no static this time, and then his boss' agitated voice.
"Mr Solo! How nice of you to get in touch! I'm assuming the recent unrest in Europe has something to do with you?"
Napoleon grimaced. "I have Illya, Sir."
He wished he could see the expression on Waverly's face, wished he knew just how dangerous U.N.C.L.E. had become, and why. Whether this was all in his imagination.
After a time, Waverly replied, "What's your status, Mr Solo?"
"Not good. He's badly hurt, needs immediate medical attention."
"Where are you?"
"On the road to Troyes."
Another pause as Waverly checked the mental map he relied on so heavily.
"Go to HQ in Geneva. I'm afraid you'll have to do what you can for Mr Kuryakin until you reach safety."
Solo closed his eyes. It was around three hundred miles to Geneva from their current position. Admittedly not an impossible journey to do in a day. They could be there by this evening. He just wasn't sure Illya had that much time. He had to have lost a lot of blood. Whatever drugs they'd forced into his system could be doing untold damage. He was dehydrated and starving.
He could hear Waverly's voice, tinny over the tiny speaker, asking if he was still there.
"Solo out," was all he could manage to say.
Starting the engine again, he pulled onto the road and drove until they arrived in the first small village. The sun was poking up above the horizon and he got lucky - a woman was just opening up what looked to be the only store in the village. Napoleon stopped the car and jumped out, hoping he didn't look too dishevelled.
The woman turned. She was young, mid-twenties, Solo guessed. And she had a nice smile.
"Bonjour," she greeted him, only slightly wary. "Peux-je vous aide?"
"Oui, j'ai besoin d'un endroit pour reste, s'il vous plaît. Mon ami est malade. Il a besoin de se repose."
She looked passed him to where Illya was still slumped in the car.
"Il y a un endroit près de par. La droite, part alors. Rue de Espoir. Un petit hôtel, mais confortable et bon marché."
Solo smiled. A small hotel in Rue de Espoir. Road of Hope. Apt. "Merci."
She nodded and stepped into the shop. Solo got back into the car and followed her directions.
It was a guesthouse more than it was a hotel, but it was a great deal more than the hotel he'd found for them in Paris. Despite the hour, the owner - an elderly woman just as friendly as the girl at the shop - charged him a minimal price for what turned out to be a very comfortable room.
He woke Illya in the car and the Russian managed to make it up to the second storey room, leaning heavily on Napoleon.
He was asleep again the moment his body hit the bed. It was a double room but Napoleon didn't care that there was only one bed. He didn't want to sleep apart from his partner. He needed Illya close by and put it down to his forced belief that he'd never seen the man again. He refused to acknowledge the very real possibility that he'd lose Illya anyway, to the injuries his body had sustained, even though the thought danced constantly at the edges of his mind.
The first thing Solo did was to set up as much security in the room as possible with the scarce resources at his disposal.
The second was to fill a glass of water and tip the liquid down Illya's throat. The action disturbed but didn't completely wake him. Napoleon made an educated guess that he'd been force-fed like this sometime in the not-too-distant past.
He tried to put that too out of his mind, to package it up with his rage and suspicions until Illya was tucked into a hospital bed and Napoleon was settled in a chair at his side. Even then, he knew, he wouldn't sleep, wouldn't rest. At this moment he wasn't sure he'd ever be able to let Illya out of his sight ever again.
One last mouthful and the water would be gone.
Illya was starting to struggle in earnest now and Napoleon had to grasp his chin to hold him in place, a little of the violence inside him escaping his strained control. As his fingers tightened, a sound - a choked whimper - was torn from Illya's throat.
Napoleon let go immediately, his composure shattered as he realised he was simply causing his partner more pain. He dropped the glass to the floor, unable to stop tears leaking from his eyes. For the first time in his life he felt completely helpless and utterly without hope.
Leaning down he scooped Illya into his arms, crushing the blond against him, unable to think straight and knowing just that he couldn't do anything to change what was happening.
For a minute Illya struggled wildly. Then he stilled.
Napoleon started to speak; started to mutter strings of apologies and half-sobbed explanations.
Illya wrapped his wiry arms around his partner's neck and slowly buried in face in the crook of Napoleon's shoulder.
The rough whimper came again. This time Napoleon felt the vibration against his throat and it suddenly righted him.
He recalled the wounds he would be aggravating, the pain he'd be causing simply with this embrace and he immediately let go, loosened his arms with a heartfelt apology.
He realised something else too. It was the first sound he'd heard Illya make since pulling him from the cell.
Tipping the slight man back a little in his arms he stroked the blond hair gently, coaxing Illya to raise his head. When he did, when Napoleon looked into those pale blue eyes, his tears stopped.
Illya opened his mouth, obviously tried to speak, but what came out was a breath of air and nothing more. He tried again and again while Napoleon waited, petting his hair gently, willing now to give him all the time in the world.
After a long couple of minutes, Solo's patience and Illya's determination were rewarded with a whisper. A beautiful sound.
Napoleon swallowed back more tears and resisted the urge to hug Illya again. "Illyushka." He smiled, inordinately proud.
Illya touched fingertips to the dressing at his throat. "Injection," he whispered.
Napoleon frowned. "In your throat? But why?"
"Stop me screaming."
Solo felt a flash of rage so immense it blotted out everything for just a moment. He closed his eyes, feeling his limbs stiffen with the surge of adrenaline.
And then there was a touch to his face and Illya's forehead came to rest against his own. He sighed, holding his partner with infinite care.
If they'd stopped Illya from screaming, they'd stopped him from speaking too. If they didn't want him to tell them anything then the torture was simply for their sick entertainment. Napoleon didn't want to think of the despair Illya must have felt knowing that he couldn't end it - there was no goal, nothing he could offer them to end the pain. And how long before he gave up hope that Solo would find him, would stop this never-ending cycle?
His arms tightened reflexively and Illya whimpered a little; was immediately released.
Illya moved his head once and settled into the safety of Napoleon's embrace. The adrenaline surge gone, exhaustion was overwhelming Solo as effectively as it was Kuryakin. Carefully, he moved them so that they were lying down, Illya tucked into him even as his partner faded once again into sleep.
Napoleon made himself a coffee.
He should have been hungry but he wasn't. He wondered if Illya was. He would be loathe to offer his partner anything to eat before a medical team had checked him over, pumped him full of counteragents and saline and confirmed he still had a stomach lining.
He woke Illya half an hour later and got him to drink several glasses of water. Illya asked to be helped into the bathroom where Napoleon attempted to give him some privacy, doing what he needed to for his partner, letting Illya instruct him.
"I need you to tell me what hurts," Napoleon asked of Illya as he sat on the edge of the bathtub. "And no false bravado this time, Vanya."
Not that Illya could have pulled off any kind of lie in his state. He stepped back from the toilet, leaning on the cistern. His urine was red, not a good sign. Embarrassed at what he had to do, he indicated the bowl, showing his partner.
Napoleon didn't feel the need to comment. He simply nodded and asked gently, "What else?"
"My belly hurts," he whispered in reply. "My head aches."
Both those complaints had to be understatements, Napoleon thought. "Illya?" he pushed.
"My fingers hurt."
"They're broken. I'm sorry I couldn't do a better job. Once we reach Geneva you'll be safe at the U.N.C.L.E. infirmary."
At the mention of U.N.C.L.E., Illya glanced up with fear in his eyes, a fear Napoleon completely understood.
"Don't worry. I'll make sure you're safe. I'll keep the dogs from your back, that's a promise."
With a hitching sigh, Illya nodded. Napoleon was definitely the only one he trusted at that moment - it showed on his face.
His partner helped him with his trousers and assisted him back into the bedroom before gently hugging him. "I won't leave you again."
For now it was enough.
They were on the road again twenty minutes later.
Napoleon stopped at a café in a small village after an hour. Illya was asleep and Napoleon was growing more and more concerned. He left his partner inside the car, wanting to leave the engine running but worried that someone would simply drive off with Illya while he went inside and purchased a large coffee and some water.
Returned, he hated to wake Illya but knew he had no choice.
"Come on, Vanya," he murmured, sweeping his fingers through the blond hair, "I need you to drink this."
Illya stirred but didn't wake.
The trill of his communicator startled them both. Napoleon jumped a little, causing a few drops of cold water to splash onto Illya's hands. Blue eyes opened and Illya's lips moved but no sound came.
"It's okay." Napoleon reached for his communicator. "Solo."
"Napoleon? It's Mark - Mark Slate. I need to talk to you."
Napoleon hesitated, confused. "Mark, I'm on my way in."
"I know. You've been sent to Geneva HQ by Mr Waverly. Please, meet with me before you take your... package to HQ."
It would have been gratifying to have his suspicions confirmed but he wasn't sure he could trust Slate either.
"We're running short of time," Napoleon spoke slowly.
"I don't doubt it. There is a small, private clinic in Lousanne, Clinique de Bonne Sante. Go there, April and I will meet you."
"How do I know this isn't a trap?" he asked straight out, looking directly into his partner's eyes.
"Illya's ring. It was given to Mr Waverly by a man named Claude De Vris. There never was a body, Napoleon. There never was any car accident."
He still wasn't sure, but he was willing to believe Mark. He and Illya had worked closely together on a couple of missions. In the field you depended on your partner and asked him or her to depend on you. It defined a trust that was difficult to break.
"All right. We'll be there by this evening. But I'm warning you, if anything bad happens to Illya I will kill you."
There was no hesitation. "I know."
Closing the communicator, he pocketed it and went back to helping Illya with the water.
After a few gulps, Illya whispered, "You think... U.N.C.L.E... betrayed me?"
Napoleon glanced away. "I don't know. But I can't risk it, I won't. I won't risk you." When he looked back, acutely embarrassed, he saw fear in Illya's eyes.
"I'm scared, Napoleon."
Touched, knowing how difficult it had to have been for his self-sufficient partner to admit that.
"Me too. But I'll look after you, Illya, I promise. No one is going to hurt you."
"If U.N.C.L.E. left me to die...."
He shivered a little in the cold and wondered how Illya was managing to survive all this. Digging the car keys from his pocket, he put them into the ignition and started the engine, switching on the pathetic heaters to full blast.
Turning in his seat he reached for his partner's hand. "I'm not going to leave you. I have to get you to a hospital. After that... we'll deal with it. Okay?" He knew it sounded like he was talking to a child. At the moment he didn't think Illya could care less.
Illya nodded once, quickly, before finishing the water Napoleon had brought for him and closing his eyes again. He hurt, inside and out. The pain went from a dull ache to sharp intensity without warning. He tried to bite back his silent groan, folding himself as best he could into the uncomfortable car seat.
Napoleon drank his hot coffee in five scolding gulps before throwing the empty polystyrene cup onto the back seat and starting the engine.
He drove as fast as he could, stopping once for gas and a second time for coffee and water for Illya. But this time, he couldn't wake his partner.
Every ten minutes for the rest of the trip he'd taken one hand from the wheel and checked Illya's pulse.
It was dark by the time they reached Lousanne, and the pulse below Napoleon's fingers was weak and thready.
He vaguely wondered how he would find the clinic but he needn't have worried. As he'd passed the city borders a white Mercedes had pulled out of a side road in front of him and flashed its indicators in a complex pattern Napoleon had quickly recognised as Morse code.
He couldn't remember feeling so relieved.
The clinic was an anonymous building on a cobbled street in the centre of the old town.
Outside it April was waiting for them, along with a middle-aged man who was infinitely gentle with Illya when Napoleon opened the passenger seat door.
"We must get him inside quickly," the stranger instructed them.
Mark and Napoleon carried Illya into the house. There was a treatment room on the ground floor, which the man - Doctor Nathan Luchand - directed them into. A nurse joined them immediately. Napoleon insisted that he stay as they treated Illya and backed up his insistence with his gun.
Luchand wasn't phased. He shrugged and started to remove the clothes Napoleon had stolen for his partner in Paris.
"What is his name?"
"Hello, Illya. We're going to take care of you now, all right?" No answer. He hadn't expected one. "I'm giving you an injection of morphine so it's safe to come round and talk to me if you don't like anything I do."
As he cared for each of Illya's visible injuries and checked for those that couldn't be seen, the nurse deftly set an intravenous line into the back of Illya's left hand and started saline and blood. Mark fetched a small bottle and a syringe from a chiller bag Napoleon assumed he'd brought with him and handed both to the nurse.
"Counteragents," he explained to Napoleon, not needing the silent question in the brown eyes to be spoken aloud.
Exhaustion was starting to touch the edges of his mind but Napoleon refused to give in to it. He couldn't, not until he'd convinced himself that Illya was safe, that they were safe here.
There was another injection, again into the IV port. Blood pressure and temperature were checked. Napoleon winced as the doctor did some gentle probing around Illya's genitals and anus and was glad that the doctor seemed satisfied and left well alone, except to insert a catheter.
The nurse set Illya's two broken fingers with a splint and a fresh bandage. It looked painful and a part of Napoleon was glad Illya was so utterly out of it.
It was over two hours and yet another injection before Luchand helped his nurse dress an unconscious Illya in a white gown and called for two orderlies to take his new patient to a room on the first floor. Napoleon and Mark went with them, Napoleon giving his partner's fingers a squeeze as they went.
Luchand followed, waited for Illya to be settled in a bed in the small, private room with the IV line still running saline and blood into his system.
Only then did Napoleon collapse into the only chair in the room. Mark watched him with concern.
"Are you injured?"
"No." He shook his head.
"Would a coffee and a sandwich help?"
Napoleon nodded thankfully.
Luchand let the innocuous conversation pass before leaning back to explain the situation.
"You saved his life. Your stitching was almost perfect and those wounds will heal given time. He's severely dehydrated and malnourished. The cuts in his wrists and ankles are down to the bone - I'm guessing from his attempts to escape from binding wire - and they're infected. He also has an infection that probably started in his urinary tract and moved to his intestines and stomach. I've started him on a course on antibiotics to combat that. There is evidence of several injections into his throat, to paralyse his vocal chords, yes?" Napoleon nodded. "Nasty but not permanent. It will wear off, he will soon be talking again."
"Thank you." He sounded incredibly grateful and was glad of it.
"Do not worry." Luchand pushed himself from the wall on which he was leaning. "Now, I have other patients who require my time, although I will say not one of them is in such dire need as Illya here. I will be back to check on his progress in a couple of hours. You need to eat and rest, you brought him this far but soon I fear I will have a second unexpected ward if you do not follow my instructions."
Napoleon smiled a weak smile.
"You are welcome to find a free room in which to sleep, but something tells me you will be napping in that chair. Eat, drink. Look after yourself with the care you extend to Illya."
Luchand left them alone then. Napoleon sighed softly and moved the chair close to the bed, stripping off his worse-for-wear jacket and taking Illya's fingers into his own. Between the bandaging around the broken bones of his right hand and the tape around the IV port on his left, it was all Napoleon could do.
Mark reappeared a few minutes later and Napoleon tucked into the sandwich with more relief than actual hunger. The coffee was hot and strong, although he doubted even the wickedest Espresso would keep him awake for much longer.
Sitting on the floor, his back against the wall, Mark spoke quietly.
"April and I were on a mission in Lyon. We found a file that we believe Thrush stole from the U.N.C.L.E. offices in Geneva a couple of weeks ago. It contained two communications - one from the Russian government to U.N.C.L.E. and one from De Vris to an unnamed recipient. The one from the Russians was requesting... requesting Illya's execution."
Napoleon's grip tightened momentarily on Illya's fingers but he said nothing.
"The one from De Vris said something like - 'one gold ring in exchange for the partridge.'"
"What made you suspect U.N.C.L.E.?"
Mark looked uncomfortable at the question and Napoleon couldn't blame him. They were talking about an organisation they'd pledged themselves to. The idea that U.N.C.L.E. could have deliberately left Illya out in the cold was unthinkable.
"It was April's... thought. U.N.C.L.E.'s resources are such that a full investigation should have been held into Illya's death but there never was one. There was also no attempt to return his remains to Russia, or to bring them back to the US for burial befitting an U.N.C.L.E. agent. She said that it was as if he'd never lived... or maybe he'd just never died.
"When I heard Waverly was flying to Geneva I looked into it and found out you'd contacted him. You'd found Illya. April couldn't bear to take the risk that U.N.C.L.E. had a hand in his disappearance, whether deliberately or simply because the opportunity arose. I have to admit, I could only agree with her."
Napoleon placed the empty mug onto the floor and leaned back in the chair. "How do know about this place? About Luchand?"
"He's a old friend of April's family. You're both safe. No one knows you're here but us. You have many, many friends and even more allies, Napoleon. Never think that the world is against you."
"Thanks, Mark." They were his last words before sleep took him.
~ ~ ~
The Final Affair
Act II - "And you think I lied to you."
The sun was shining bright through a window Napoleon hadn't even realised was there the previous night.
He opened his eyes and sat up, wincing as every muscle in his body protested.
Illya was sleeping soundly, curled on to his side with the IV lines hooked precariously over his blanket-covered body. Standing, Napoleon loosened the narrow tubes so that they weren't pulling on the needle in Illya's hand.
Hovering for a moment he pushed the unruly blond hair back from over Illya's eyes and rubbed the backs of his fingers over one pale cheek. However uncertain their future now he couldn't help but be relieved that Illya was finally where he needed to be.
He checked the drip and found that the blood had been stopped but there was a new saline bag attached. He'd probably missed another couple of injections too - counteragents to the cocktail of drugs De Vris had loaded into Illya's system, antibiotics to counter the infection in his digestive system and morphine to prevent the debilitating effects of the pain he would be in when he woke.
Napoleon started when the door opened.
April put her head inside the room and smiled.
"Morning, Sleepyhead," she murmured softly, as if anything could disturb Illya right now.
"Want me to sit with him while you take a shower? Mark has brought some clothes for you - and for Illya. Hopefully they'll do until you can get into town."
"Thanks. For everything." He hoped one day he could repay her and Mark adequately.
"Don't mention it. Anything for Illya. And you, of course." She winked and he smiled.
"Point me in the direction of the shower?"
The water was hot and the spray was powerful. Napoleon stood under it for a long time, letting the grime of Paris wash away.
The dirt had a red tinge to it that he knew was his partner's blood. He let the nausea roll over him and it passed quickly.
When he eventually stepped out of the shower, Mark was waiting for him. The junior agent gave Napoleon a critical once-over, checking for injuries, before handing him a towel and indicating the pile of warm clothes on the toilet seat.
"Tell me about the letter from the Russians," Napoleon instructed, completely comfortable with his own naked body. Working so closely with other agents left very little room for self-consciousness. Not even Illya had managed to hang on to that trait for too long.
Mark perched on the small radiator. "It stated that Illya was the property of the Russian government. They required his immediate removal from duty and if at all possible his death under what it termed, 'expected and usual circumstances'."
Napoleon had pulled on the sweater and jeans and was staring at himself in the tiny mirror. There was a rage building inside of him that was becoming more and more difficult to control. "Who was it addressed to?"
"U.N.C.L.E., Geneva. It simply said, 'To Concerned Parties'. But it was signed one General Ivan Nostov."
The name rang lots of bells in Napoleon's head but he couldn't pin down the source.
The familiar trill of Napoleon's UNCLE communicator brushed his thoughts aside.
He plucked it cautiously from the pocket of his shirt where it lay on the floor of the small bathroom and stared at it.
"It'll take them four minutes to trace you through that." Mark reminded him. "And we disabled the homing device in your watch last night while you were asleep. Just in case."
Napoleon smiled. Unscrewing the tiny microphone from the base of the 'pen' and slotting it in the top, Napoleon made the connection and Channel-D was open.
"Mr Solo?" The concern in Waverly's voice made him feel a little bit sick again.
"Is everything all right? We were expecting your arrival sometime during the night."
He hesitated. "Yes. We made a detour."
"Ah." A pause on the other end this time. "In that case you've probably run into Mr Slate and Miss Dancer." It wasn't a question and Napoleon didn't answer. "It appears they've run across some confidential information that relates to your Mr Kuryakin. I can assure you, Mr Solo, that the information has been wrongly interpreted."
Napoleon considered that, registering the suggestion of ownership. "Nevertheless, Sir, if it's all the same to you, we won't be coming in until I can assure Illya's safety."
"Of course it isn't 'all the same to me'!" The anger in the usually gently sarcastic voice took Napoleon by surprise. "I have four agents running around Europe undermining everything U.N.C.L.E. is working for."
Napoleon struggled to remain calm. "With all due respect, Sir, what exactly is U.N.C.L.E. working for?"
Another pause. "Don't push your luck, Mr Solo. You have twenty-four hours to bring Mr Kuryakin, Miss Dancer and Mr Slate in. After that time, I can't be responsible for the actions this organisation may decide to take against you."
The connection was broken.
Solo grabbed the slim tube in his hands and snapped it in two, unable to stop the cry of frustration from leaving his lips.
"It may be that he's telling the truth," Mark ventured, although he sounded unconvinced himself.
"He knew about the letter, he knows about the file. Where is it?"
"It's in our room."
Gathering his things, Napoleon followed Mark through the narrow corridors of the old house, up to the third floor that appeared to be accommodation for the doctor and nurses.
The bedroom was small with an unmade double bed taking up most of the space. Napoleon perched on the corner of the mattress and took the file that Mark pulled from a secret flap of material at the base of his suitcase. It was a slim manila folder with 'U.N.C.L.E. Geneva' printed in red at the top. Inside was the letter from the Russians and a note scrawled in bad handwriting - the note from De Vris that they were assuming had accompanied Illya's ring.
"Even if UNCLE didn't set Illya up to be captured, someone inside U.N.C.L.E. knew that there was no car accident and no burnt corpse. Someone knew that De Vris sent the ring and that same someone kept the real circumstances to themselves when you were told Illya was dead."
Napoleon closed the folder carefully and laid it down on the rumpled sheets. Slowly, he rose to his feet and crossed to the tiny window.
He took a deep breath before his anger exploded outwards and he smashed his clenched fist into the wall next to him.
The shock of pain lanced across his mind for a single moment and then cleared.
He leaned his forehead against the glass, looking out onto the small courtyard at the back of the building.
Silence stretched between them until Mark cautiously spoke.
"I need to know if Waverly was in on this."
"And I need to work out where we can go, where Illya will be safe. I need to guarantee that somehow."
The other agent's mind had caught on the 'we'.
"Napoleon... you're one of the best agents U.N.C.L.E. has, if not the best. If you left...."
Napoleon turned, folding his arms. "I won't work for an organisation that abandons its operatives out in the field and leaves them to die. If Waverly lied to me about Illya - if he knew... I'll kill him myself."
Mark stared at his colleague, eyes widening as he realised Napoleon meant what he said. "My God, you're serious."
There was no warmth in the chocolate stare now. "No one has the slightest clue how much Illya means to me. He isn't just another agent to be played with. He's my partner. He's my life. When I saw him in that dungeon... I killed De Vris without a thought."
"De Vris is dead?" Mark wasn't sure what he should be feeling after Napoleon's confession. Horror was what he'd felt upon seeing Illya the previous night. Disgust had been his reaction to finding the communications about the Russian in an U.N.C.L.E. file.
"They could have been planted - those letters. Thrush could have stolen the file and just put those inside." He was grasping at straws, back-peddling in the sheer force of Napoleon's fury, and he knew it.
"Nostov's letter was sent to U.N.C.L.E."
"It could have been faked."
"Why would they bother?"
"To bring us to this! To turn us against our own organisation, our own boss." Mark could hear the slight note of panic in his own voice but did nothing to disguise it. "We don't know who to trust, Napoleon!"
Unimpressed, Napoleon pushed away from the windowsill and crossed the room in three paces. "We're going to find out." He closed the door behind him.
Quietly, April opened the door of the small room and glanced from Illya - where he still slept, curled on to his side on the bed - to Napoleon sitting motionless in the chair.
"How's he doing?" she murmured.
Solo looked up and smiled. "Luchand says he's doing well." The smile faded. "I need to leave him here for a little while, there's something I need to do."
She nodded. "I know. Mark told me."
Napoleon turned back, eyes settling on Illya's peaceful face. "I don't want to leave him again," he whispered mostly to himself.
"He is safe, Napoleon. But if he wakes and you're not here...."
"If I wait until he wakes he'll try to come with me, no matter what state he's in. I won't risk that."
"What do we tell him?"
Reaching out to cover Illya's hand with his own, Napoleon murmured, "Tell him I love him. I won't be gone long."
Mark handed Napoleon the keys to his Mercedes.
"Take care of her. And of yourself. If anything happens to you, Illya will kill me."
Solo laughed despite himself. "I absolve you of any responsibility."
Mark shook his head wryly. "That won't matter where your Russian assassin of a partner is concerned."
"I have to find out about Waverly," Napoleon tried to reassure.
"How? What are you going to do?"
With a soft sigh, Napoleon turned. "Just look after Illya for me."
Standing on the front steps of the clinic, Mark watched the car pull away and speed off up the cobbled hill. He waited for sixty seconds before taking the second set of keys from his pocket and sliding into the driver's seat of the Napoleon's stolen Citroen.
Illya woke to a world of hurt.
Without opening his eyes - terrified of what he'd see - he knew he was in a strange room and that his partner wasn't with him.
His body was a jumble of flaring nerves, every part of him putting too much demand on his limited resources. He had no control over the sound that scraped rough over his vocal chords - his throat so sore he almost couldn't bare to swallow.
A gentle hand touched his arm and a female voice spoke his name softly.
He opened his eyes, his vision blurring.
"Illya, it's April. Do you remember me?"
He had no idea if he did or didn't. He tried to recall his last memory and found he couldn't.
"Napasha?" He heard the croak of his own voice and winced.
April wasn't sure what he'd been trying to say, but she made an educated guess. "Napoleon's all right, Illya, he was sitting with you all night. You're at a Clinic in Lousanne, Switzerland. You're safe and you're going to be fine. You're in the best hands."
Illya listened to the words as best he could. He wanted Napoleon with him, but more than that at that moment he wanted to pain to stop. "Bolna."
"I'm sorry, Illya.... What?"
"Hurts," he managed with some considerable effort. The burning at the back of his throat was a warning against any further attempts to speak but he tried anyway. "Please...."
He wasn't sure how long it was between people moving about and the world fading again into blissful unconsciousness. It seemed like forever. But finally there was no longer any pain and he let himself fall gladly into the darkness.
Luchand carefully drew a small syringe of blood from Illya's arm.
"He is healing," he reassured April, feeling her eyes following his every move. "He is trained to survive. For the last couple of months, that is what he has been doing. Now he is safe. His body knows that it is being given what it needs to heal and therefore it has stopped trying to fight and started the healing process. He feels every injury now." Placing the syringe into a petri dish he checked Illya's chart. "The counteragents to the drugs may have an adverse effect on him. He may be sick, in which case he might start coughing up blood from his stomach. He may just feel unwell. We will watch for his reaction and deal with it."
"He will be okay?" she asked cautiously. Yesterday, when Napoleon had laid his ward on the gurney with infinite care, she didn't believe Illya could still be alive.
"He will live. His body tells tales of past abuse. He has survived before, he will again."
April watched her old friend leave the room, taking Illya's blood to be analysed. Then she returned her attention to where Illya slept soundlessly. For a couple of moments she allowed herself the luxury of admiring the silk of his blond hair, the long eyelashes and full mouth. He was too pale, too thin. And utterly beautiful.
She considered Napoleon's care of him, his words to her before he left. And she knew then that Illya was never returning to UNCLE. She knew Napoleon was planning on making them both disappear.
Two top spies, experts at not being seen when they didn't want to be. One of Kuryakin's roles in the KGB, Solo had once told her, was counter-intelligence. He could make it as though they had never existed. She wondered what that meant for her and Mark and decided not to think about that now.
It was with some trepidation that Napoleon walked into the Geneva Headquarters of UNCLE.
He'd always felt as at home in any of the regional offices as he did in New York, but right now he trusted U.N.C.L.E. less than he trusted Thrush. What was it Illya had once said? At least you knew where you stood when someone was pointing a gun at your head.
Waverly had been alerted of Napoleon's arrival; he was waiting just inside the first set of doors and lead his second into an interrogation room, citing the need for privacy.
As soon as the door was closed, Waverly turned the force of his fiercely controlled anger onto Solo.
"Just what in hell did you think you were doing in Paris?" he bellowed.
Napoleon held his ground, despite his boss seeming to grow to fill the whole room. "Rescuing my partner," he replied calmly, keeping his own rage in check for the moment.
"Your orders were to track down a man in Hamburg called Perion and bring him into custody. You weren't even supposed to be in France."
"I had a tip that Illya was a prisoner of Claude De Vris, who was about to do a deal with Thrush for his life."
"And you decided to step in."
Napoleon let slip a little of his tight rein. "I wasn't about to let that bastard sell my partner."
"I was under the impression that you believed Mr Kuryakin to be dead."
"That was the impression you gave me." The words were carefully chosen.
Waverly nodded. "And you think I lied to you." Napoleon didn't answer. "Well, Mr Solo... you'd be right."
It took a moment for the words to sink in.
"What?" He had never expected the number one man in U.N.C.L.E. to confirm his suspicions outright.
Waverly shook his head. He at least deflated a little although the anger remained in his eyes.
But Napoleon could not have guessed, however wildly, at the explanation that followed.
"Mr Kuryakin was under deep cover."
Feeling dizzy, Napoleon reached out, put his palm flat on the table, staring at the old man incredulously.
"Claude De Vris was working against the Russian Government. They suspected involvement from the inside but couldn't prove it. They requested our help. We made De Vris believe that a small clique of U.N.C.L.E. agents shared his views. They delivered Mr Kuryakin in a double set-up."
Napoleon wasn't sure he could speak. He tried it once, took a deep breath, and tried it again. "Did Illya know what he was walking into?"
"Of course he knew! His mission was to gather as much information as possible from De Vris and find out who was working inside the Soviet Government."
"And he volunteered for this?"
"He was the perfect choice. The letter Mr Slate and Miss Dancer happened to find from the Russians is a fake, drawn up to make De Vris believe Mr Kuryakin had sensitive information about the Soviet government."
He still couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Why didn't Illya tell me?" More a thought out loud than a question, but Waverly answered it.
"We told him not to. And he didn't have time. He was told about the mission on the same day the exchange was planned for - about an hour before. We made it look like he was being set up by our own people, of course. The note we received back from De Vris - with Mr Kuryakin's ring - told us that he'd taken the bait."
"But... who was Illya's back up?"
"He had no back up. It had to look real or there was a real danger De Vris would simply kill him without a thought."
Napoleon felt himself losing control. His anger was burning through him like fire, licking at every nerve.
"When I found him he was half-dead. He's lucky to be alive. De Vris tortured him and then when he realised Illya knew nothing, he paralysed his vocal chords and continued to torture him until he tired of it and dumped Illya in a hole TO DIE! Selling him to Thrush was an afterthought!"
Waverly at least looked uncomfortable to admit, "We lost contact with him soon after the exchange. He had a small transmitter just under the skin of his chest. We assumed De Vris' men had found it. We also assumed that Mr Kuryakin would affect his escape. When he didn't... we had to assume he was dead."
Napoleon's fist clenched. He stepped forward but instead of hitting his boss he slammed his hand hard on top the tabletop.
"Why didn't you tell me then? I could have gone in. I could have pulled him out!"
"I knew you'd take every risk."
"You abandoned him. You left him out in the cold to die."
"I couldn't lose both of you!"
Shaking his head, Napoleon stepped around his boss. "That's exactly what you did."
Waverly didn't seem to hear him. "Where is Mr Kuryakin? He may have information about De Vris and others close to him."
"Whatever information he had, I doubt he still remembers it. It's a miracle he remembers his own name." He reached for the door handle.
"Mr Solo! You will bring Mr Kuryakin in immediately!"
"I won't. Illya and I are resigning, effective yesterday." He opened the door. "If anyone comes after him, I will shoot them. You can trust us to keep our mouths shut but if anything happens to either of us, I'll make sure Thrush is the recipient of a few very important names and locations."
But Napoleon was out of the door, slamming it shut behind him.
He expected someone to try to prevent him from leaving, but no one did.
He dropped his badge at reception but kept his ID card and his gun. He hoped he was doing the right thing for Illya. He had no idea, he realised, what his partner's situation was politically.
He sighed. If it came to it, he'd marry Illya just to get him his green card.
The idea made him smile.
Settling into the car, Napoleon checked the rear view mirror and saw the Citroen peeking out from around the corner. He smiled to himself and keyed the engine.
All he wanted now was to get back to Illya.
Mark pulled away from the curb a couple of cars back from Napoleon. He watched for tales but there were none. No one had come near the car while it had been parked outside U.N.C.L.E. HQ, but as he expected, Napoleon pulled over half way between Geneva and Lousanne.
Mark stopped behind him and they swapped cars.
"Thanks for covering me," Napoleon said with a tight smile.
"I'll take her for a spin and see you back at the ranch. You can tell me all about it."
With a nod, Napoleon took the proffered car keys and slid into the much less expensive car. Somehow, it felt more comfortable now.
Napoleon gently rubbed his partner's slightly curled fingers where they lay on the mattress in front of his face. Illya's right hand was held close to his chest even in sleep. He'd woken twice according to April; disorientated and confused, asking for Napoleon.
"I'm here now, Vanya," he assured quietly.
Soft breath breezed over his fingers, rhythmic, steady. Reassurance enough for Napoleon. He looked up when Luchand stepped into the room.
"His blood work shows some improvement from last night," he explained without preamble. "Of his open wounds, his ankles and wrists are the worst. I have the nurse changing the dressings every six hours. At the moment he is not strong enough for them to start to heal." The doctor checked his patient's chart, interpreting the figures and the points on the temperature graph. Replacing it at the foot of the bed, he met Napoleon's questioning gaze.
"Mr Solo... Illya is very poorly. He is going to need a long time to recover. It will be some time before he has the strength to run from... anything; to fight the bad guys." He smiled a little smile. "Given the right care he will make a full recovery - or as full as can be expected after what he has evidently been through."
"He's safe here," Napoleon repeated Mark's words from earlier. "I can give him all the time in the world." Luchand nodded, obviously pleased. "There is... one issue. Insurance...."
"Do not worry about money. When Illya is recovered and you are all away from here, I will have my colleague in Lisbon bill U.N.C.L.E. for the full amount. He will undoubtedly enjoy that."
Napoleon wasn't sure how they'd drawn such allies, but he could only be thankful.
"One of my patients was released this morning. His wife was staying in the room next to April and Mark. Please feel free to make yourself at home - sleeping in that chair each night will not do your neck any good at all."
"Thank you, but I don't like the idea of him being alone."
"Then at least rest during the day." Shaking his head at the stubborn American agent, he went to leave. "Please, Napoleon. I have enough trouble with one of you under my care."
"Believe me, Doc, I wouldn't want...." He stopped mid-sentence when the fingers under his own moved. "Illya?"
"Pasha...." A whisper. And blood-shot blue eyes found his.
"I'm here, Illya."
"I know, lyubimaya." He glanced at Luchand. "He said it hurts."
"Ah. Excellent! A translator. Could you ask him where, specifically?"
His eyes had closed again, but Napoleon caught a whispered reply. "Vezde."
Napoleon winced in sympathy. "Everywhere."
"His morphine isn't due for another hour. Get him to sleep if he can."
Leaning forward, Napoleon started to card his fingers through Illya's hair; a gentle stroke that had helped with migraines in the past.
"Nyet." But Napoleon could hear his partner's breathing evening out again as he slipped back into unconsciousness.
"'Nyet'," Luchand repeated. "Doesn't that mean 'no'?" he asked, an amused smile playing on his lips.
Napoleon turned his head, smiling, keeping up the steady play through Illya's hair. "He's a stubborn bastard."
"Stubborn and cheeky. Tell him he is not allowed to argue with his doctor who always knows best."
"Believe me, Illya will argue with a Thrush agent holding a loaded gun to his head."
Luchand grinned. "My kind of man."
Napoleon waited until they were alone before giving Illya his full attention. "Mine too."
Mark shook his head. "I don't believe it."
Napoleon scowled. "I wouldn't make something like this up just to confirm my...."
"No, no. I believe you. I just don't believe *it*. That U.N.C.L.E. would risk an agent so recklessly, send him into an impossible situation without backup and then abandon him when it goes wrong." He sighed softly. "What did you... say? What did you do?" He was a little scared.
"I told him Illya and I were resigning."
Mark's eyes widened. "What?"
"U.N.C.L.E. had some sort of claim on Illya's life. Not anymore. How can I work for them now? Knowing what I know?"
"What about Illya?"
Sighing softly, Napoleon rubbed his eyes with his fingers. "It'll be months before he's fit to even think about going back to work. And I... I can't let him go out alone."
"Aside from it being his choice," Mark continued carefully, "what about his official position with his government?"
"I don't know," Napoleon admitted. He was so tired all of a sudden. "I just wanted free of it all. I want Illya to be safe."
"I know." Mark found himself wondering what engendered such incredible loyalty between the two men. "But there must be repercussions. We know that no one resigns from Thrush and lives. I don't know of anyone who's resigned from U.N.C.L.E. before they're retired from the field due to age."
"We'll disappear," Napoleon told him straight. "Illya has contacts. We won't have ever existed."
"Except to U.N.C.L.E. and Thrush. They won't stop chasing you just because you've resigned."
"Why not? What makes us interesting is what we know, not who we are."
"You're sure about that?"
Napoleon rose from the bed. "I'm not sure about anything."
The door to the guestroom opened and April poked her head around the door. "Sorry. Napoleon?"
He was already at the door. "What's wrong?"
"He's awake and asking for you."
Stepping around her, he took the stairs down, two at a time.
"Pasha." He was trying to sit up in bed, obviously in pain and obviously too weak to support his own weight on his hands or elbows.
"It's okay." Napoleon perched on the edge of the bed. Despite the current limitations of his own body, Illya was still pushing himself.
With an affectionate and slightly frustrated sigh, he moved around to sit next to the pillow, sliding one arm around his partner. Illya settled against him, exhausted by the simple manoeuvre.
Napoleon reached back, pulled the pillows up against the head board so that he could lean on them and dropped back slowly, taking Illya with him.
The blond head came to rest against his shoulder, eyes already closing.
Somehow sitting like this, holding Illya, it felt as if everything was going to be all right. Whatever would happen would happen and they'd survive it. They'd come out of the other side of this stronger than ever. Together they were incredibly strong, they always had been.
Resigning from U.N.C.L.E. might have landed them in a world of trouble or it might have been the best thing he'd ever done. Whichever way, they'd deal with it.
The biggest problem as he saw it was that his feelings were all mixed up with this.
His life had been shattered by the news of Illya's death. For the first two weeks he hadn't left his apartment, had spent every night getting drunk and every day waking from bad dreams into the nightmare of his existence.
Mark had visited after the second week. He'd not said a word about the state of Napoleon or the state of his apartment. He'd taken some of Napoleon' washing down to the laundry room in the basement of the block and a half-hour later, Solo had joined him there. Sitting on the floor in the humid heat of that room, back against the wall, he had cried himself out while Mark watched the washing going around and around in the machine.
All Napoleon could remember saying that afternoon was, "I miss him."
And all he could remember Mark saying was, "I know."
Illya had been torn from him and he hadn't been there to hold his partner in his last seconds, to hear his last words. That right as Illya's partner had been taken away and he'd been more angry than he'd ever been.
Simmering under the grief had been a rage that had festered. He'd returned to work the next day after Mark's visit, thrown himself into assignment after assignment. He'd killed Thrush agents with the same coldness, the same careless attitude Illya always had. He'd ignored the women sent to seduce him and dismissed the innocents he'd always accommodated in the past.
He'd refused another partner and on the one occasion Waverly had sent another agent out with him, Napoleon had ditched the unsuspecting man in the first hour.
All he'd wanted was to see Illya's scowling face when he turned around. To feel the Russian's solid presence at this shoulder.
He'd walked into the same dangers they'd walked into together a hundred times before but now he did so alone. There was no one to watch his back any longer and there was a part of him that hoped a bullet would take him down and end his life.
At some point, without him even noticing, the quiet, surly Russian had become as essential to him as breathing.
"I love you, Illya," he murmured into the silken hair under his chin.
He had thought never to get a chance to tell his partner that. Once Illya was strong enough to hear it, he swore to himself that he would tell it all, whatever the consequences. Illya could believe him or not, he could rant and rage. It didn't matter.
Of course, there was a whole range to his words. He wasn't altogether sure what he meant by them now. The grief of the last two months, the terrible fear of the last two days, had focused his emotions on protecting Illya, saving his life, unable to face losing him a second time, knowing it would destroy him if Illya were to die.
Still the residue remained, firing along his nerves whenever he wasn't in this room, turning his stomach if he remained away from Illya's side for too long or thought of the future too much.
He was taking Illya with him, but what did that mean? The practicalities of his rash promises seemed faintly ridiculous when he was thinking straight. He couldn't see them doing anything but what they were trained to do. Illya wasn't going to settle down and sell flowers. Napoleon truthfully couldn't imagine spending his days in an office.
Had he burned too many bridges? Were they even the ones he might want to cross again one day?
He considered his own words again, his need for Illya to know he was loved. Searching his feelings too deeply felt like touching a raw wound. Still too close, still too painful.
What did it mean if his words went beyond the platonic? Weren't he and Illya already far closer than that? The old 'a partnership is like a marriage' thing was so true for them. A marriage without the sex.
Napoleon's whole being caught on the idea. His cock twitched. His heart swelled. How good would it be to take Illya in his arms and make love to him? How amazing would those lips feel against his own? He already knew the silk of his partner's hair, the warmth of his body, the tenderness in the strong hands. How would those agile fingers feel wrapped around his cock? Stroking his balls? Filling him?
Guilt followed the arousing thoughts quickly enough to douse the momentary hardness in his groin.
Illya was badly hurt, relying on him for his very survival, and he was thinking like a sex-starved... spy! He didn't even have the first clue about Illya's feelings for him. He was making life-changing decisions for the both of them without a whisper of consent from his partner.
One thing, just one thing, he knew for sure. Nothing would ever be the same again.
He looked up as the door opened, freezing for a moment like a naughty school boy caught in the act.
Luchand smiled. "Good evening."
"Good evening, Doc. He... he was trying to get up and I thought...."
Luchand waved his hand dismissively. "Do not feel the need to explain. I know about the special bond you partners develop. April and Mark have been sharing a double bed since they arrived here and yet they assure me there is nothing going on between them." He shook his head. "Not that I understand how he could share a bed with such a stunning woman and not be tempted."
Reaching for the chart at the end of Illya's bed, he flipped the pages of notes made by the nurses who checked on the patient every hour. For a minute or so he studied the results, then he put the clipboard back.
"He's doing well. In a couple of days he will undoubtedly be calling me some choice names and giving you a hard time."
Napoleon almost laughed. "You sound like you know him."
"From what April and Mark have told me I know his personality type. He has been through much, as you know, and I would expect lots of defences to be in place when he wakes proper. Have patience with him, Napoleon. He will make a full recovery in time."
Napoleon gave Luchand a knowing look. "You keep reassuring me."
"Well, the night you brought him in here you refused to leave the treatment room and backed up your refusal with a large gun." He smiled. "I gathered from that you were concerned about him."
Napoleon had the common decency to look a little ashamed of his actions. "I'm sorry about that."
"Do not feel you need to apologise. As I said, I can understand your protective nature. It will be nice to know Illya a little, after stitching him back together again from the inside out."
Waving his hand, he left them alone again. It was an hour before Mark brought Napoleon something to eat.
Suz looked up from her book and sized up the two men who had stepped into the clinic.
"Can I help you, Sirs?"
They leaned on the desk and smiled at her. She kept the suspicion from her face and voice.
"We were told a friend of ours had been brought here."
"Do you have a name?"
"Certainly. Illya Kuryakin. He was badly injured and accompanied by another friend, Napoleon Solo."
Suz frowned. "I don't recognise the names but I will check with Dr Luchand's nurse. Excuse me a moment?"
They nodded and she opened a door behind her.
"Cath?" she asked the empty room, "Is Nathan treating an 'Illya Kuryakin'?" She paused and then closed the door again. "I'm sorry, gentlemen, there's no one of that name here. Are you sure you have the right place? We're a private clinic, emergency cases aren't usually brought to us."
"This is Clinique De Bonne Sante, isn't it?"
She nodded. "But we're not the only one. The clinics are owned by a Doctor Michael Chance. There are Bonne Sante clinics in Geneve, Montreux, in Lisbon, Mahon, Hamburg...."
One of the men was looking at the other. "Geneva?"
"Yes. Along the Rue Ferdinand."
They flashed her more smiles. "Thank you."
"It's no problem. I'm sorry I couldn't be of more help."
She waited until they were gone and then another couple of minutes before going to find Mark Slate.
Luchand smiled as he looked into his ward's bright blue eyes for the first time. Napoleon was asleep in the chair next to the bed. It was late, or early, depending on your perspective. Luchand would usually have been asleep but he'd lost a patient tonight.
Eighty-five year old Jean Frank had passed away in the arms of his wife after a long battle with throat cancer. Luchand made a point of always being with his terminally ill patients at the end and with their families for some time afterwards. He offered them hospitality and comfort while they endured the final months, weeks or days of the life of a loved one. And after it was over he offered peace.
Margaret Frank was sleeping now, with the aid of a mild sedative.
Luchand was on his way home, just a couple of doors down from the clinic. But something had made him check on his sickest patient before leaving.
Illya was awake, obviously in some discomfort. Luchand perched on the edge of the bed where he could be seen.
"Do you know where you are?"
Illya regarded him for a moment.
"I'm sorry. My name's Doctor Nathan Luchand. I've been looking after you."
The blue eyes closed for a moment and Luchand couldn't help but smile to himself when Illya's mouth opened in a gaping yawn.
"Don't worry about sleeping," Luchand reassured. "It's the best thing for you right now."
But Illya looked up at him and whispered, "Doctor?"
Luchand nodded, schooling his expression and choosing his words carefully. "Yes. Badly. I won't lie to you. But you're going to be okay. You have two broken fingers, some very nasty wounds and a couple of infections. We're looking after you and you're going to make a full recovery."
Illya seemed to absorb the information and Luchand gave him time.
It took him a moment to think about the translation. "Napoleon? He's here." Stating the obvious, as Solo's hand was - as usual - wrapped carefully around Illya's fingers. Then he understood. "He's fine, Illya. No injuries. He's exhausted but he's absolutely fine."
Illya's eyes closed. "He saved my life."
"Yes he did."
Luchand stood as his patient fell asleep. He couldn't help but feel his faith in life restored.
Napoleon watched the surveillance tape from reception the next morning.
"U.N.C.L.E. or Thrush?" Mark asked from where he saw at his colleague's shoulder.
"U.N.C.L.E. John Coops and Andrew Worthy, section two agents from the Geneva office." Napoleon sighed.
"I guess they weren't here to give you your release papers."
"I doubt it."
Napoleon shrugged. "I have no idea. Listen, Mark... you and April have risked enough. Go back. Tell Waverly you met with me, passed me the file. Tell him Illya and I stayed with you at your hotel and you helped me treat his wounds. Tell him we left and you don't know where we were headed."
As much as he hated it, as much as he didn't want to leave, he knew Napoleon was right. Unless he and April wanted to resign, they had to go back.
"What will you do?" Solo's hesitation was enough. "You're right. It's best I don't know. That way when they inject the truth serum, I won't have anything to tell them."
"I'll get Illya as far from here as I can."
"Napoleon...." But he didn't have to state the obvious. "Please be careful."
"Absolutely not!" Luchand was appalled by the suggestion that his patient was in any fit state to be moved. "He can't walk, can barely talk. He needs full medical care." He stared at the two determined men standing before him. "Try to understand, when you brought Illya in he'd endured two months of torture and starvation. The little reserved strength he had he used to assist you in his rescue. He is going nowhere for at least a week and after that he will need rest and medicine and much care."
Napoleon stared at Mark. He and April couldn't return to U.N.C.L.E. while Napoleon and Illya remained. U.N.C.L.E. would know where their renegade agents were within twenty-four hours. "I've dragged you into this...."
"No. April and I involved ourselves. We contacted you, remember? If Illya can't leave then we stay until he can."
Sighing, closing his eyes, Napoleon decided he'd never felt so very tired. There was nothing he could do. It was as if his whole body just stopped.
Mark caught him before he hit the floor.
Illya woke to April's welcoming smile.
"Good morning, Blue Eyes," she murmured softly.
He managed a smile, wishing his head didn't hurt so much. "April." It was more than a whisper and it still hurt to speak, but the sound cheered him a little, like a small victory over his demanding body.
She stroked her thumb over the backs of his fingers. "That's right. How are you feeling?"
Illya didn't answer the question. 'I'm fine' wouldn't have been remotely believable and it would have taken too long to tell the truth. All in all, he considered the question mute and asked one of his own. "Where's Napasha?"
"He's sleeping, love. He was completely exhausted."
"He's all right?"
"He's fine. Don't worry."
Thinking it was typical of his partner to drive himself to the edge of exhaustion, Illya accepted her explanation.
Gently taking his hand from under hers, he pressed his palm to the bed and tried to push himself up. A blinding pain sliced up from his wrist along his arm and into his skull. He bit back his own scream as he wrenched his hand back up, but his throat still burned from the use of it. He felt sick suddenly.
April had responded in a heartbeat, knowing what he was going to do and not being fast enough to stop him, she cradled the back of his head in her palm as she eased him back to the pillows.
"Easy, love," she murmured, seeing the agony in his face, curled lips, in the scrunched eyelids and tears leaking from under them. "Easy."
She took his upper arm in her other hand and let his wrist and hand rest along her arm, almost breathing with him.
"Your wrists and ankles are badly damaged."
As soon as he could think clearly again, Illya knew why. He'd torn them apart trying to free himself from the wire bindings. It had hurt like hell, he knew he'd bled from the wounds. But after a while they'd gone numb, he hadn't realised he'd made such a mess of them.
She waited for him to ride out the pain before sliding her hand out from behind his head and laying his arm down onto the mattress.
He nodded cautiously, not trusting his burning throat right now.
"You're going to have to give yourself time on this one, Illya," she told him gently. "No whistle-stop stay in medical this time."
The Final Affair
Act III - "U.N.C.L.E.'s no better than Thrush."
Three Days Later
Illya stood as still as he could as Luchand's warm fingers impersonally held his penis to remove the catheter.
As uncomfortable as it was, it was over in less than a minute.
"You can sit back down now," he was instructed and he did as the doctor said, pulling down the gown as he did so.
"How are you feeling?"
"Sore." He almost spat the word. He couldn't recall when his life hadn't involved others being taking liberties with him. He knew how much he owed Luchand, he just couldn't bring himself to admit it right now.
Luchand knew. He understood and he didn't hold any of Illya's moods against him. Pain played with the brain's chemistry and his patient had been in almost constant pain for almost three months.
"I want you to tell me if you experience any problems when you urinate - any pain at all. I want to know if there is blood in your urine. We are lucky your kidneys and liver are all still working, I would like to keep it that way. For now you are on liquids only - no solid food for at least another two to three days. You are going to be exhausted while your body is healing; sleep whenever you need to, do not fight it." He smiled to himself at the expression on his patient's face. "Just one more thing. Napoleon - it seemed - thought you were dead, he grieved. Do not close yourself off from him. Do not deny him your life now he knows you are alive."
Luchand left him sitting on the edge of the bed. It was where Napoleon found him half an hour later.
Cautiously, Napoleon sat next to him, careful not to touch.
"I'd like some clothes," Illya said softly, his tone apologising for any lack of greeting.
With a smile, Napoleon left him for a couple of minutes, returning with some new clothes April had bought in Montreux the previous day.
"They would have been in your size if you hadn't lost so much weight," he murmured, helping Illya into the crème, woollen sweater and the soft, faded jeans.
Single, sterile dressings covered the wounds Napoleon himself had stitched back together. Thicker, padded dressings covered the deep, expertly stitched wounds at wrists and ankles, where internal suturing had been necessary.
His youngest bruises were fading to a dull purple from the livid red they had been at the time of his rescue. Older bruises were almost completely faded now. The infection in his injuries as well as the one in his digestive system were clearing up well, the antibiotics doing their job.
His blood work showed his system almost clear of the cocktail of drugs De Vris had had pumped into him.
Physically he was healing, as Luchand kept telling them both. But no one except for Illya knew what his mental state was, how fragile his grip on his sanity had become in De Vris' hands.
Dressed, Illya glanced at his partner. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it." Napoleon sat back, watched while Illya shifted until he was comfortable on the bed.
For a short time they sat in silence, neither fidgeting, neither uncomfortable. And then Illya raised his head.
"I thought I was going to die. I never thought...." He sighed softly. "I didn't think you were coming this time. And I know... I know it was my fault. I should have told you, should have found some way of telling you before I went but.... I was undercover." He looked away unhappily.
For Illya, it was a speech of epic proportions.
"I know," Napoleon told him as calmly as he could. "I saw Waverly. He told me."
Blue eyes met his again, pleading. Miserable. "I am sorry, Napasha."
"Why? You have nothing to be sorry for."
"I betrayed... us."
"You didn't, Illya. U.N.C.L.E. betrayed us both. In no way was this your fault."
At the mention of U.N.C.L.E., Illya raised his left hand to his face, agitated, upset. Scared, Napoleon realised.
"Napoleon, what's going on? This isn't an U.N.C.L.E. medical facility, is it? There haven't been any shrinks hounding me, any debriefings. Just Mark and April. You saw Waverly... but we're in... Lousanne...." Napoleon could practically see the cogs turning.
He reached across, took Illya's hand carefully in his own, bringing it away from his face.
"This is a private clinic run by a friend of April's family. U.N.C.L.E. doesn't know where you are. I went to see Waverly and he told me about your secret mission."
"That's how you knew where to find me?"
"No.... Two months ago... Waverly told me you'd been involved in a car crash. He told me you were dead. He gave me this." Letting go of the other's hand, he slipped the ring from his finger and he held it out for Illya who took it with trembling fingers.
"I thought it lost...."
"I had no reason to doubt Waverly, Illya, I'm the one who's sorry. I believed him. I mourned you. I missed you... so much. And then... I was on a mission in Paris and I heard about De Vris and a 'houseguest'. I knew it was you. I went for you, pulled you out as soon as I knew you were still alive. I was almost too late. I thought... I really thought you were going to die on me. I couldn't take you to U.N.C.L.E., Mark contacted me and told me about the files they'd planted about your mission. Only we had no idea they were fake. I didn't know who to trust. I chose Mark because I knew you trusted him."
Illya hesitantly reached for Napoleon's left hand. He slid the ring back onto the finger he knew Napoleon had been wearing it on. Warily, he looked up, met his partner's wide-eyed expression.
"Keep it. As a... thank you for saving my life again."
Napoleon ran his fingertips over the cool gold band. Twice he opened his mouth to speak and twice the words failed him.
"If you'd rather not.... It might put off any willing females...."
"No. I mean... yes. I want to wear it. It does put the women off and I've been glad of that these last few weeks." He lowered his voice, embarrassed but wanting to say it. "I'll wear it for you, Illyushka."
Illya stared at him but both men knew it would be a while before either could understand what Napoleon's words meant for them.
For a time the silence hung heavy between them. Napoleon knew he had to tell his partner everything.
"Illya... I resigned. For both of us."
It was becoming too much, he knew. Illya's already damaged world was being shattered, piece by piece, into painful shards. Soon there would be nothing left that he recognised, nothing that represented safety. Apart from Solo himself.
He knew little about the Russian's childhood. He understood that he'd known his family and had been loved by them, but not for very long. He'd been a child in a labour camp, a student in the Ukraine and in England. He was a trained KGB interrogator and a once-valued U.N.C.L.E. agent. Now it must seem to him that he was valued by no one, had nowhere to go.
"I... don't understand," Illya stammered. "Why? Why would you...?"
Shouts from downstairs interrupted him.
Without hesitation, Napoleon reached forward and took the gun he'd placed in the narrow bedside cabinet the day after they'd arrived. Illya regarded it with wide eyes, watching Napoleon rise from the bed and head for the door with murder in his gait.
Illya shook his head. "No...." But he didn't understand his own denial. "Napasha...."
"It's all right. No one's going to hurt you, I swear."
He was out of the door.
"Napoleon!" Illya sighed softly as the door closed with a quiet click. "What about you?"
Napoleon ran into the two strangers on the stairs. Both men were toting semi-automatics but he didn't recall hearing gunshots. Hopefully no one had been injured in their obvious hurry to get into the clinic.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" He didn't recognise either man, didn't know if they were U.N.C.L.E. or Thrush. Not that it really mattered anymore.
They both came at him, guns aimed. He fired twice but only one bullet hit home. It caught the first man in the shoulder, causing him to stumble at the hot agony as the metal pieced flesh and muscle, lodging in bone.
Napoleon re-aimed, but the second man hadn't slowed as his partner had been shot. The butt of the semi-automatic cracked against the side of Napoleon's skull and he dropped.
Stepping over the fallen agent, plucking the gun from his fingers, the large stranger glanced back to see if his colleague was still standing. There was a slightly panicked look on the man's face and his hand was pressed over his wound, blood seeping through his fingers.
"Take him," he instructed, lightly toeing Napoleon's inert body with the tip of his shoe. "Dump him in the trunk."
His bleeding companion asked him something but he wasn't listening. He peered through the glass of the first two doors along the wide corridor and opened the second one with his elbow, two guns primed.
Stepping into the small room he felt a sudden sharp pain in his arm and yelped, turning furiously as an awkward left hook connected with his chin.
Growling with anger, he raised his right arm and hit the blond man across the face with the back of his hand.
Illya stumbled back with the force of the blow, his left wrist protesting the abuse, slicing pain along his left arm. He struggled to reclaim his balanced but as he lifted his head, the handle of Napoleon's pistol was brought down hard on the back of his neck.
He crumpled to the ground, fighting to remain conscious through the blinding pain and the sparkling darkness behind his eyes. His head connected hard with the wall and the wave of nausea washed over him. Instinctively he turned onto his side.
His attacker took two steps forward and Illya let loose a howl of pain beyond anything he'd known as his broken fingers were mashed into the carpet under the heel of the man above him.
His stomach retched moments before he passed out.
Turning his head, the stranger saw the syringe sticking out of his right arm. Pulling it out with a grunt, he kicked Illya savagely in the head.
Napoleon stood panting for breath in the midst of the wrecked interrogation room.
At least he knew now that the two men had been U.N.C.L.E. agents and not Thrush. The knowledge had simply made him more angry. He'd woken in a corner of a familiar room. This room. One chair, one table, no window. A two-way mirror behind which, he knew, was a camera, a monitor and maybe someone watching him.
He'd hammered on the toughened glass for what had felt like an eternity, demanding to know the whereabouts of his partner until his throat hurt.
Then he'd launched a full-scale attack on the furniture, smashing it to pieces against the wall and using the legs of the table to make another attempt on the mirror.
Now he stood amongst the destruction, feeling a little better and ready to kill.
When the door finally opened, Waverly stood before him taking leisurely draws on his ever-present pipe.
"Why don't you come to my office? At least there we can sit down."
Illya came to slowly, listening to then dismissing most of the complaints his body offered up. His head was throbbing. He felt marginally sick although he'd nothing solid to eat for the last couple of weeks he was sure. His left hand hurt like hell while his right felt numb. That relieved and scared him at the same time.
He opened his eyes. The scent was the same as in the clinic but he wasn't in the same room and something told him he wasn't in Lousanne.
"Welcome back, Mr Kuryakin."
The smooth, German accent sounded familiar and he tried to sit up. Adrenaline immediately flooded his system when he found he was restrained at the ankles and wrists. He pulled on the thick, wide leather straps, trying to free himself in all the ways that had served him in the past.
The pain he caused himself, rubbing the existing wounds raw once again through the dressings, sapped the little energy he had and he soon flagged.
His captors watched with quiet chuckles until their prisoner collapsed back to the hard mattress.
"No need for such a struggle, Mr Kuryakin. And no point, don't you agree? You know who I am?"
He knew. Doctor Hans Narvelt. U.N.C.L.E. had recruited him only a year or so ago when Thrush had betrayed him. He was a first class interrogator, prized by U.N.C.L.E. and used on the strongest of Thrust minds when U.N.C.L.E. got the chance to probe one.
"I see that you do." Illya cursed himself silently. His poker face had obviously slipped. Or maybe he no longer had the strength to construct his careless façade. Too many long hours at the hands of De Vris' men. He could hardly believe that U.N.C.L.E. was about to set its most brutal interrogator onto one of its own men. Then he remembered Napoleon's words.
'I resigned. For us both.'
And he realised suddenly that Napoleon had meant that he'd resigned them both.
He was no longer an U.N.C.L.E. agent thanks to his partner. He was a liability. Perhaps he would have been even if Napoleon hadn't lost his mind.
Narvelt stepped into view beside the bed. "It's too early in our game for pleas, Mr Kuryakin." He held a long syringe up to the light, tapping the wicked needle until a drop of clear liquid appeared at the tip. "Save them until later."
Illya could feel the fear creeping up on him. He didn't want this anymore. He'd hurt enough at the hands of the enemy and now he was being terrorised by his own side. He had no information to give them. De Vris had known his captured was a set up from the very start. Illya had been chained, beaten and drugged from the moment he'd entered De Vris' house.
"I don't know anything," he told them, hating himself for the note of pleading he could still here in his own voice. "I'd tell you if I did."
Narvelt said nothing and Illya felt the heel of his foot taken in an iron grasp. He tried to pull it back but only succeeding in scraping the leather strap even deeper into his wounded ankle. He bit back his own cry but couldn't hold in the yelp as the metal tip of the syringe was pressed into the base of his foot. The needle sank deep and Illya held his breath as the truth serum washed into his system.
"Where's Illya?" Napoleon sat opposite his ex-boss, the wide expanse of mahogany separating them.
"I can assure you he's fine. Unlike the two men I sent to collect you both. Mr Kuryakin managed to inflict a couple of nasty wounds on Mr Madison before he was persuaded to come quietly."
He didn't want to think about what that meant. "Where is he?"
"He's in Medical. I'll take you to him once you and I have talked."
"You can't keep us here indefinitely."
"Believe me, Mr Solo, I have no intention of doing so."
Shaking his head, rising to his feet, Napoleon started to pace.
"Why are you doing this? Why can't you just leave us alone? You can trust us to keep our mouths shut."
Waverly regarded him thoughtfully. "Do you know something, Mr Solo? I believe you."
"Then why...?" He extended his arms, indicating the building in general, their presence inside it.
"Because Mr Kuryakin has information that we need. Once he's imparted all he learnt while a guest of our Mr De Vris, you'll both be free to go."
"He's badly hurt. What if he can't remember?"
"Don't you worry about that, he's in the best hands."
Something about the reassurance sent a shiver down Napoleon's spine. He tried to keep his frantic concern over Illya to himself though, knowing it could only make matters worse, and gave the old man his full attention.
"Tell me, Mr Solo, why are you doing this?"
"I told you. You left my partner to die."
"And I told you, he volunteered."
"To take the mission, yes. But not to commit suicide on U.N.C.L.E.'s behalf."
Waverly chuckled softly. "I don't recall phrasing it that way when I asked him to participate."
Napoleon felt sickened. "To bail out the Soviet Government?"
"Yes. As I explained before. Mr Kuryakin was the Soviet choice for the mission. Part of the deal was dual citizenship which was automatically granted to him when he left for Paris."
He didn't let his surprise show but Napoleon felt a thread of hope start to wind itself around his mind. Illya was free from the Soviets. Free from the KGB and the fate that had always awaited him just around the corner. A year, ten years, twenty years from now when U.N.C.L.E. no longer had any use for him and sent him home to face the business end of a machine gun and execution in a cold, empty courtyard.
"His own government granted him that?"
Waverly hesitated, and Napoleon suddenly saw something else. Something not right with the story he'd been told. There was only one question his brain kept snagging on; why Illya?
"Actually... U.N.C.L.E. granted it to him, with the permission of the Soviet Government and the KGB. They have their own concerns, Mr Solo, without having to worry about a Russian U.N.C.L.E. agent returning to the fold after years of corruptive living in the USA."
Napoleon frowned. Why Illya?
"I'm curious," he started cautiously. "Why did you partner Illya and I years ago?"
Waverly glanced at him, chewing on the flat end of his pipe. He was searching for the catch in the question, Napoleon realised. He schooled his expression and waited.
"I thought he would be good for you," the reply came finally. "You were a little wild. Too... unpredictable. I thought Mr Kuryakin would have a positive influence on you." He paused, sighed. "Little did I know."
Napoleon swallowed. He knew. Something in the quietly added words, something in the way Waverly wouldn't meet his eyes directly. Something in the distance, in the way he'd been treated. In the way Illya had been treated.
"On our first mission out," Solo spoke with carefully chosen words, "Thrush approached us. No force, no capture, no torture. We were in Istanbul. We had drinks in a bar, a good meal; expensive. And they offered us both jobs." He was glad to see the horrified expression on Waverly's face. "You know, we actually considered it for a couple of seconds. Both of us. Although of course neither of us admitted it until much later in our... relationship." He selected the word deliberately and saw the flash in Waverly's eyes. Jackpot. "Now, looking back, I wish we'd accepted."
"No, you don't." There was hope in the old man's words.
"Why not? What difference would it have made in the long run? U.N.C.L.E.'s no better than Thrush."
"How can you say that?"
"You're both about control! In some ways, U.N.C.L.E.'s worse. You ask us to give up everything, those we love, those we care about, and devote ourselves to the cause of the day. At least Thrush demands loyalty without sacrifice."
Waverly stared at him. "What are you talking about?"
Napoleon's anger reached flashpoint. "Why did you send Illya on that mission?" he shouted.
"I told you," the old man was having difficulty holding his own rage in check, "the Soviet government requested that he...."
"Bull. Shit. They didn't request him. You could have sent any one of us. You could have given him backup. You could have informed me. Why did you send him? Why Illya? Why alone?"
Waverly finally dropped the pretence of ignorance. He regarded Solo with barely disguised disgust. "You know why."
"I want to hear it for myself. I want to hear the bigotry spoken by the man I once admired."
"If you're trying to justify your own behaviour...."
At the same volume; "Because I won't have two of my agents behaving like fairies!"
The silence in the room was deafening.
Napoleon dropped his face into one hand, pinching the bridge of his nose, a gesture unconsciously picked up from his long, close association with his partner.
But not that close. Not yet.
"You think Illya and I... were lovers."
Waverly's expression turned sour, as if he couldn't bear the taste of the words. "I know you were."
It was all Napoleon could do not to laugh. He couldn't keep the ironic smile from his face.
"You were wrong. I won't deny my feelings for him but I honestly have no idea how Illya feels about me. Not even now." He approached the desk, palms flat on the wood, leaning over even as Waverly rose uncertainly to his feet. "You sent Illya to his death for something he hadn't done, probably hadn't even contemplated. You close-minded, bigoted bastard."
Waverly composed himself. "Common insults are below you, Mr Solo. I accept that I might have made a mistake in believing you and Mr Kuryakin to be engaging in... homosexual activities, at least with each other." The mere idea of Illya having sex with another man rankled Napoleon but he didn't let it show. "But as you've admitted, your feelings for him are inappropriate. Eventually you'd have wormed your way into his bed, seduced him as the expert you are."
Napoleon bristled. Illya wasn't a one-night fling. He wasn't a notch on Napoleon's bedpost.
"Or maybe he would have corrupted you," Waverly was continuing. "Used those pretty looks, batted his eyelids and coaxed you into his bed." Napoleon resisted the urge to lash out. "Either way it's against the rules for field agents to have such relationships. And even if it wasn't... the thought of it still makes me sick."
It was enough. Napoleon turned, heading for the door.
"I'm leaving. Illya's coming with me."
Waverly shrugged. "By now, Narvelt should have gleaned all the information Mr Kuryakin has to give."
Napoleon had paled at the name. "Narvelt? You set Narvelt on Illya?"
At Waverly's small, smug nod, he gave into his urge and punched his boss. By the time the old man had recovered, Napoleon was running down the corridor toward the elevators.
"Who was working with De Vris?"
I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. How many times?
Illya felt sick, his stomach rolling, his head pounding. He could feel the drug in his veins, thick and sticky.
Narvelt had discovered quickly that the best way of inflicting pain on this particular subject was to let him do it to himself. A quick jab of a needle or a mild electric shock into hands or feet would cause Kuryakin to pull away.
Blood was slowly soaking through the dressings on the man's wrists and ankles. No heed had been paid to the already broken fingers that Madison had trodden into the carpet at the clinic.
"My patience is infinitely more than your tolerance for pain, Mr Kuryakin. Please, tell me what you know. Who was working with De Vris?"
"I. Don't. Know." He ground the words out between his teeth, squeezing his eyes closed, ashamed of the tears had escaped from under his lids. He was so tired now and it hurt so much. He didn't know the answers. In some ways it was worse than De Vris' torture because this was U.N.C.L.E., this was where he was supposed to be safe.
"I have other methods you know," Narvelt was crooning away to himself, "I seldom use them because they are particularly crude. But if what Mr Waverly tells me is correct perhaps you would appreciate them more than others."
Illya wasn't listening. His body had become too painful a place and his mind was drifting. He thought about Napoleon, believing that he could hear his partner's voice calling for him. Another time, another place. He had no idea where Napoleon was now, even if he was alive. He remembered hearing gunshots back at the clinic, just before U.N.C.L.E.'s hooligan had burst into his room.
The thought that Napoleon might be dead upset him. He didn't want to lose his partner. For the first time since his realisation that he was no longer an U.N.C.L.E. agent he was glad of it. He wanted to leave with Napoleon, to go somewhere away from all the pain and... and what? He didn't know, wasn't sure. But Napoleon was wearing his ring - that meant something, didn't it?
If Napoleon was still alive of course.
Throbbing pain beat out a rhythm behind his eyeballs and he moaned softly. He was back in his body. His ankles were free and there were hands on him, removing his jeans, pushing his knees up.
He yelled, as loud and as hard as he could.
A second later the door crashed open and his object rape was prevented by Napoleon throwing himself bodily at Narvelt.
The orderlies had backed away from him and he kicked out just in case any were in still in range. He could hear Napoleon's fight with the famous interrogator but saw nothing until Napoleon stepped into view brandishing a blood-covered scalpel.
"Illya.... Are you all right?"
Illya declined to answer such a blatantly stupid question. He waited patiently for Napoleon to release the leather straps at his wrists before struggling into a sitting position and pulling his jeans back up over his hips.
"Let me," his partner requested gently. Illya's fingers were useless, his left hand trembling, his right hand mutilated. Napoleon carefully fastened the buttons at his fly for him. Once done up, Napoleon turned his attention to the crimson dressings. "Jesus, Illya... I'm sorry...." He started to remove the first one but Illya pulled his hand away, cradling his right in his left.
"Let's just get out of here," he insisted.
Three agents tried to stop them from leaving but Napoleon dissuaded two of them and Illya head-butted the third, an unexpected move that bemused Napoleon as much as the dizzy man on the floor.
But Napoleon didn't hear nor see Waverly during their escape, and after the initial attempt no one got in their way.
Stepping outside the U.N.C.L.E. offices confirmed they were in Geneva. Napoleon had one or two contacts here, all of whom were loyal to U.N.C.L.E. of course but they were possibilities. He was still considering their options when Mark's Mercedes screeched to a dramatic stop beside them.
"Can I offer you gents a ride anywhere?"
Napoleon wanted to lean inside and kiss the man on the lips. Instead he bundled Illya into the back seat and joined him there.
Mark winked and pulled away from the curb.
Safe on the open road, Mark glanced at his passengers in the rear view mirror.
Napoleon was seated, looking none the worse for wear. Illya was curled next to him, lying uncomfortably across the back seat, his head rested on Napoleon's thigh, his eyes closed. The sleeves of his new sweater were pulled down over his wrists and Mark could clearly see the scarlet stains seeping through.
"He okay?" he asked softly.
"No," Napoleon answered truthfully. A few minutes later, he added, "It's my fault, Mark."
"All of this. Waverly sent Illya on that mission because he thought we were sleeping together." Napoleon carded his fingers through Illya's hair, being careful not to disturb his rest.
Mark said nothing for a moment before turning his head just a little. "Napoleon, everyone thought you were sleeping together."
"You're talking about the rumours. There are rumours about every partnership, you and April in particular. It was ridiculous! Waverly had no proof and based on rumour he sent Illya to his death."
Mark smiled into the mirror. "Not so ridiculous, Napoleon," he murmured.
None of the clinic staff had been injured in the U.N.C.L.E. agents' hasty entrance. Luchand was relieved to see his patient back under his care. He treated and redressed Illya's wounds, reset his broken fingers. Napoleon assured him that the truth serum would work its way out of Illya's system with no more side effects than they were already seeing.
It was the first time that Luchand was able to get Illya to tell him exactly what parts of him hurt and how much. On the 1-10 scale, Illya was giving him decimal points.
"I want some of that for all my patients," he muttered, settling Illya into Napoleon's bed and watching him slip into sleep, utterly exhausted. "He's going to be sore for a time, but what your sadist interrogator put him through was nothing compared to what he'd already endured." He regarded Napoleon. "Better get you into that bed too. It's late, you've both had a difficult day. Get some sleep."
With that, he left and Napoleon sat down on the bed. He couldn't think about what Narvelt had been about to do to his partner. He couldn't think about what had already been done, what was being done.
He reached out tentatively, fingers hovering just above Illya's shoulder. Luchand had cut his new sweater and jeans from him to get to his injuries. April had come up with another set of clean new clothes. Once Luchand had finished, Napoleon had helped Illya into the sweater (a deep midnight blue this time) and they'd brought him up here to sleep. It was Illya's determinedly truthful statement that he didn't want Napoleon to leave him tonight that had him sleeping in Napoleon's bed now.
He'd hate himself in the morning once his system worked itself free of the drug.
But for now he was snuggled under the duvet in the double bed Napoleon had been snatched scant hours of sleep in since they'd arrived.
The adrenaline was still in Napoleon's veins. Like after a fast mission; in and out, grab the documents or hostage or important Thrushie and run. Usually for their lives. After such a mission he would do one of two things; drink or fuck. Hit the town, the city, wherever they happened to be. Join Illya in a bottle of vodka and collapse into an anonymous hotel bed completely drunk. Or he'd find a woman who didn't know his name and seduce her into bed, into wild sex.
Unless he was hurt of course, or unless Illya was. Bedside vigils were part of the job. From drug-induced fits to gunshot wounds. Sometimes worse. Then the adrenaline would settle in his veins, like now, until he could get drunk or get laid.
He could go into Lousanne and find a bar. But he didn't want to get drunk.
He lowered his hand to Illya's wool-covered shoulder, stroking his thumb over the soft material. Illya didn't stir.
Stripping off his clothes, Napoleon crawled under the duvet until he could comfortably rest on his hand on Illya's hip. He was too awake to sleep but he rested, listened to the steady sound of Illya's soft snoring.
The Final Affair
Act IV - "Mine?"
The physical distance between them hadn't survived the night.
Napoleon woke in the morning to a heat he hadn't known in some time. He couldn't remember the last time he'd woken with someone - anyone - in his arms like Illya was now.
At some point in the night his partner had turned into the circle of his arms, burrowed into him and was now plastered against him, head below Napoleon's chin, breath teasing the scant hairs on Napoleon's chest.
He leaned back slightly, taking in the glorious, almost angelic sight of his snuggled partner. This wasn't the typical Illya pose. No one who'd met Illya would have considered him the cuddling type. He was usually prickly, not allowing anyone close. But he was only human underneath all the defences. If he wanted Napoleon's warmth, it was his.
He breathed rested his head against the pillow. Illya smelt of antiseptic - such a familiar scent on both of them. Wherever they ended up he didn't want to see another hospital for a very long time.
That meant living in relative safety. Somewhere U.N.C.L.E. wouldn't touch them, somewhere they wouldn't draw any attention. But rather than 'where' he kept coming back to 'what'. Illya had once told him that he had a nest egg put aside for a rainy day. Napoleon had no idea what that meant but he too had some savings safely squirreled away. Even if money wasn't an issue for a couple of years, boredom certainly would be.
Illya shifted in his arms, suddenly restless. He hooked one bare leg absently over Napoleon's, pushing closer.
On second thoughts, maybe boredom wouldn't be so bad.
Even with the greatest will in the world Napoleon couldn't prevent his abandoned libido from taking notice. Since Illya's 'death' he hadn't been the slightest bit interested, grief overshadowing his usually overactive sex drive. But here, now, like this.... He could feel skin against skin. He could feel the contrast between the rough material of the bandages around Illya's ankles and the soft hairs on his legs, the warmth of his thighs and the ice of his feet.
Napoleon closed his eyes, glad for Illya's sweater at least. Not that it stopped him from finding bare flesh higher than Illya's legs. His hand just seemed to slide under the wool at Illya's waist, his fingers spread of their own volition over warm, smooth skin and he bit back his own groan.
Illya woke, stiffening in Napoleon's arms before attempting to pull away.
Napoleon held him, not tightly but enough to tell him that he wasn't unwelcome.
He may not have been unwelcome, but it obviously wasn't where he wanted to be either.
At the first sign of struggle to escape Napoleon's embrace, Illya was released. Shifting his weight between his ass and his elbows, he managed to manoeuvre into a sitting position, pulling the duvet around him at the moment he realised he had no trousers on.
Napoleon swung his legs from the bed, pulling on his jeans and black sweater. By the time he sat back down Illya had his face in his left hand, his right hand lying against the duvet, his body trembling slightly from the effort.
Pulling himself together enough to ask, "Where am I?" he glanced at his partner.
"This is the guest room I've been using," Napoleon explained gently. "You asked...." But before he could continue, Illya covered his face again, groaning softly.
"What did I say yesterday?"
With a smile, Napoleon reached for him, squeezed his shoulder lightly, reassuringly. Truth serums were notorious for causing trouble in UNCLE. Even in the once perceived safety of HQ it was easy for someone to ask the wrong question and before you knew it you were spouting your most intimate secrets.
"Nothing you have to be ashamed of or worried about. You just asked me to stay, so I stayed. Luchand thought this would be the best idea so that we could both get some sleep."
Napoleon watched Illya start to absently rub his right arm with the heel of his left hand.
"Hurting?" Illya nodded. "I'll get you something."
He left the room, returning a few minutes later with two small pink pills and a glass of water. Illya plucked the pills from his partner's palm and swallowed them dry. Napoleon held out the glass.
"Drink. Doctor's orders." Illya muttered something, took the glass and drank its contents. "The nurse said those things are pretty strong, could knock out a horse. So they'll probably make you drowsy."
He was rewarded with an empty glass, a scowl and a couple of minutes of silence. Luchand had said that there was a lot of adjusting for Illya to do, a lot to come to terms with, and Napoleon was more than willing to give him the time he needed despite the unfurling dread in the pit of his stomach.
"When you said you resigned for both of us, you meant you'd resigned me too, didn't you?"
"Yes." What else could he say?
Blue eyes nailed him with an accusing glare. "Why?"
"Because he used you."
Illya shook his head. "He didn't. I volunteered, I told you."
"You didn't volunteer!" Napoleon took a deep breath, getting to his feet, too restless to sit. "He asked you because he knew you wouldn't refuse. He made you an offer you couldn't resist; your freedom in return for your co-operation. He sent you under without backup and closed the book on you Illya! And he did it because of me."
Illya smiled for a moment, a cynical quirk of his lips, a brief glimpse of his old self. "Not everything's always about you, Napoleon."
"This is." Leaning back against the wall he forced himself to stand still. "While you were having fun with Narvelt yesterday I was in Waverly's office. He told me he chose you because he thought you and I were lovers."
"He told you this?"
"I demanded, he confessed."
"Napoleon, everyone in UNCLE and even some members of Thrush thought we were lovers."
Napoleon frowned. "You knew that?"
"Of course. People talk about you behind your back, they talk about me to my face."
He was a little incredulous. "You didn't try to correct them?"
Illya shrugged, somewhat self-consciously. "What would have been the point? Besides, it was good for my ego. That anyone believed you'd find me attractive, let alone want to take me to your bed, seemed faintly ridiculous to me. But if that's what people wanted to believe...."
Napoleon knelt on the mattress, reaching for Illya, halting just before his hands grasped the narrow shoulders.
Illya looked at him then. It felt as if his mind was being read.
"I'm a man, Napoleon." Spoken as if it was the most obviously thing in the world.
And it was. But it wasn't an excuse.
"I love you, Illya."
Taken by surprise, the Russian blinked. Then he smiled, a true, genuine smile.
"Napasha.... You know... I love you too." He blushed.
Napoleon grinned. Illya looked good in red. But he knew how his words had been interpreted and for a moment he considered leaving things the way they were. But he wanted more. And Illya deserved to hear the truth.
"There's more," he said softly. He shifted closer on his knees, running his hands down Illya's arms, stopping below his elbows. "I am attracted to you. Very much. When I wasn't sure if you could stay in American I thought about marrying you to get you your Green Card. And that lead to other thoughts. Other... ideas."
It felt like the hardest confession of his life, yet Illya was shaking his head, dismissing it.
"Whatever ideas you have, Napoleon, they won't be anywhere near to reality. You don't want this."
Taken aback, he dropped his hands away to his sides. "Who are you to tell me what I want and what I don't want?"
Illya lifted his head. "I know you. I'm not denying our friendship or our partnership. You thought me dead and grieved for me - I would do the same if I lost you. But now you have me back and all the torrent of emotions on top of the adrenaline of two rescues... it's all intertwined." He smiled a sad little smile. "It's the same for me. At the moment you represent safety. You are apparently the only thing I have left now. I want to hold on to you and never let you go but I know I must and I will."
Napoleon smiled at his partner's words. He'd never known Illya talk about his own feelings so candidly. "What if I don't want you to?"
Tone more gentle than it had been, Illya replied, "You do. Take my word for it."
He was right, Napoleon knew. All these emotions were born of his grief and relief.
He couldn't deny what he felt now but was it for keeps? He went back over the last couple of days, recalling his own thoughts, his own fantasies. Nothing overt, barely anything sexual save for that one moment when he'd considered what it would be like to make love to his partner. And even then... had his reaction had been one of desire or simply of love? When he looked at Illya, did he actually want him in that way?
Bare skin. Warm, smooth... responsive. To be in the arms of someone you love, of someone who loves you.
Quite simply, yes.
"You're not thinking of the reality," Illya's voice disturbed his thoughts. "You're strictly a woman's man. Breasts, soft skin and smooth, petit curves." His faint sigh was audible under the familiar argument and Napoleon didn't miss it this time. "I'm too hard for you, Napoleon. In many ways."
He couldn't help but laugh. "I think I'm getting hard for you too." Frustration and amusement flashed in those blue eyes and he grinned for a moment before it faded. "Is it that you don't want me?" His partner frowned, glanced away, shook his head. "You wouldn't be the first man I've had sex with, Illya." Napoleon reached out again, curled his fingers around his partner's. "But you'd be the first I'd make love to."
With a heartfelt sigh, Illya touched the tip of his index thumb to the gold band on Napoleon's finger. "Napoleon," he whispered, "if I give you this, it'll be everything I have to give, everything I am."
Swallowing passed the sudden lump in his throat, Napoleon nodded. "I know. I won't ever hurt you, I swear."
Illya looked up then, lips parted, consent in his eyes. Leaning forward, Napoleon kissed him.
It was a promise, a vow, before it became something else.
Napoleon's mouth was warm, possessing. Illya melted into the kiss, barely noticing his partner move, wrap arms and legs around him until he was surrounded.
Giving in at last, he wound his arms around Napoleon's neck, keeping him just where he was. He was held like he was the most precious thing in the world, kissed like he was the most desirable. In a few scant seconds he became addicted to his partner's taste and touch.
When they came up for air, Illya swept his palm over Napoleon's chaotic hair.
"Mine?" he asked tentatively.
"Yours, Illya. Only yours."
With a soft murmur of content, Illya rested his head against Napoleon's shoulder. He felt light-headed.
"Illya?" Cradling the blond mop against his hand, Napoleon inched his shoulder back, trying to see the face he loved. Angelic in sleep.
"Guess those pills are stronger than I thought," he muttered. Carefully he lay Illya down and pulled the duvet up to cover him. Then he sat back and watched his beautiful Russian lover - he tasted the word and found he liked it - sleep.
Napoleon slammed shut the trunk of the car and slipped the keys into his trouser pocket. Then he jogged up the steps to where Luchand was reciting instructions yet again to a more-than-usually patient Illya.
As Napoleon neared, Luchand shifted his attention, handing him an envelope.
"My brother, Karl, has a small general practice in Glasgow. Go there, give him this letter and he will take care of Illya as well as I have."
Napoleon took the envelope with a smile. "Thank you. For everything."
"As I have told you before, do not worry about it. Your agency will be receiving the bill for Illya's care."
"Our agency might not see fit to pay it."
"Doubtful they will, but they will see fit to answer my claim for damages made by their agents last month. A surprisingly high amount for a bullet hole in a wall and a broken vase."
Napoleon laughed, sliding his gaze over his partner, happy to see a smile on Illya's still too-pale face.
"Take care of him now," Luchand instructed. With a squeeze of Illya's arm, he vanished back inside the clinic. Neither men were completely sure which one of them he had been talking to.
Mark and April were leaning against the newly acquired, second-hand Porsche.
"Take care of the car," Mark insisted as Napoleon and Illya descended the four stone steps and stopped in front of them.
"You have my word."
"What about you both?" Illya asked. "I'm not sure Waverly will be pleased to see you return."
April shook her head. "We won't be returning. We sent our letters of resignation. We're off to Canada to lie low for a while. After that... who knows what opportunities will arise?" The gleam in her eye seemed to imply that she knew exactly, but neither man was going to ask.
They shook hands with Mark, hugged and kissed April.
"I owe my life to the three of you," Illya murmured, feeling Napoleon's hand at the small of his back. His partner had become an anchor amidst the chaos.
"You've already returned the favour," Mark reassured. "That's what fellow agents do, right? Watch each other's backs?"
Illya nodded, glancing at Napoleon, receiving a sappy smile in response.
Mark sighed dramatically. "Get out of here, both of you. And take care."
Two days later, Napoleon and Illya arrived in Scotland, staying their first night at a small Inn in the middle of nowhere. With excellent views and home-cooked food, they were made to feel more welcome than they'd ever been anywhere in the world. They stayed another couple of nights.
It would be a long time before they stopped looking over their shoulders for UNCLE agents or Thrushies, they knew. But in the busy city of Glasgow where no one knew them they felt surprisingly safe.
One afternoon, walking back to their city centre home from the bank, Napoleon passed a jeweller's shop. Something made him stop and he peered in through the window. On a blue cushioned pad was a small collection of gold rings. He smiled to himself and went inside.
It didn't take him long to choose a plain, narrow band.
It took him weeks to find the courage to offer it to Illya.
The appointment with Karl Luchand had resulted in a referral to a private hospital. There was talk of skin grafts to assist the healing of Illya's remaining wounds. By the time they returned home, with a date set for the surgery, Illya was tired and not happy at the prospect of more treatment.
Napoleon cooked up some pasta and made his best and most fattening sauce - lots of cream, ham and mushrooms.
Afterwards, as Napoleon rinsed the dishes, Illya went out onto the narrow balcony at the back of the lounge that overlooked a small enclosed, private courtyard. Napoleon found him there, arms crossed on the wrought iron railing,
Stepping up behind his lover, Napoleon wrapped him in an embrace, kissing the nape of his neck. Nothing had felt so easy and so right as loving this man.
Illya leaned back, smiling, rubbing his hands over Napoleon's. He brushed his finger over the gold of his ring on the other man's finger.
"I can't believe you're still wearing it."
Napoleon nuzzled his neck, a little sadly. "I know you can't. But I promised."
"Napoleon, you don't have to...."
"Shut up, Illya." Pulling his right hand free, Napoleon reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out the ring he'd been meaning to give Illya for the last month. Tonight, he'd decided. It would be tonight. And now it seemed as if fate had made the same decision.
Releasing Illya, he turned him by his shoulders.
Expecting another declaration of forever, Illya's eyes went wide when he saw the gold band sitting at the first knuckle of Napoleon's index finger.
"Wear it for me?"
Illya smiled. "Always the romantic."
"That's why you love me."
"Not the only reason...."
Taking Illya's left hand, Napoleon kissed the newly healed fingers before sliding the ring into its rightful place.