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A Mighty Strength

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They have exactly thirty-four minutes until the island burns and they are hurtling through the jungle which is easier said than done in semi-darkness with all manner of foliage to trip them up and slow them down, not to mention a gaggle of has-been gangsters and an Italian beauty who is doing her level best to herd them all in the right direction and a partner who looks ready to drop any second. He knows something is off with Illya but they don't have time

Three entire assault groups supported by B52 bombers -

     - reduce the island and everything on it to rubble

              there won't be a living thing left on it

 and then suddenly they are colliding with flashes of blue and black

 Thrush

 and without thinking Napoleon drives his elbow into the stomach of the nearest Thrush and as the man doubles over and other men rush out of the jungle he interlaces his hands and brings them down hard on the man's back, and he hears Illya shout, “look out!” and he ducks as his partner and another Thrush fly past him in an undignified scramble and all about him is raw Italian energy unleashed in kicks and punches. No wonder the Thrush guards aren't interested in sticking around.

 “Forget about them,” he shouts over the Stiletto brothers who are still spoiling for a fight, “we haven't got time, we need to get to the beach.”

 But amidst their protests

 “What's the goddamn rush?"

"Who put you in charge, Sunshine?”

“We owe it to Scissors to teach them punks a lesson”

he realises with a sickening jolt that what with darkness falling fast and the scuffle he has no idea which way the beach is anymore. He looks to Illya (because that's what he does) and experiences another jolt when Illya isn't by his side. He casts around and sees that shock of blonde hair in the gloom; his partner has chosen this moment to prop up a palm tree and he can't help but feel irritated - he could really use Illya right around now.

 “All right,” he says, addressing everyone, “who remembers the way to the beach?”

 Pia is quick to grasp the situation but the others gape at him, incredulous that he, Napoleon Solo Uncle agent has managed to lose his way, and he tries his best to quell the rising panic that's making his skin crawl as he activates the miniature compass on his watch and notes that they only have

 Twenty-nine minutes

 and tries to take a bearing -

 “What's he doing?”

 Hey Slick, what you got there?”

 and he says “it's a compass, the beach should be due west”

but the reading's off, something's wrong with the mechanism, perhaps the explosion on the boat - either way he needs to recalibrate it

 and now they're off looking at trees

Fingers, you gone mad?”

                 I read somewhere you can tell direction by the side the moss is growing on”

We need to find the Big Dipper then that'll lead us to the Pole star”

"I got news for you Galileo, we're in the wrong hemisphere for that

                                 “Slick's gadget's broke, don't they teach them Boy Scouts anything?"

"It sure is cloudy tonight”

 and he looks to his side (it's reflex) and Illya still isn't there

and now the compass has recalibrated and he takes the bearing again and sighs in relief as the reading tallies with his impression of the landscape and the direction of the breeze and his gut instinct.

“All right, listen up,” he says, “the beach is that way. If you wouldn't mind following Miss Monteri -”

 “Your fancy gadget tell you this?”

 "Look kid, I've been finding my own way round since before you were -”

 "The moss - ”

 “Gentlemen, please, we haven't got time.”

 Pia is doing her best to reason with them, but they are losing precious minutes.

I don't get paid enough for this, he thinks, and something in him snaps. He gets out his gun. “The beach is that way,” he says, switching to Italian, “and if you don't follow Pia I'll shoot you myself.” These old-timers know he isn't serious, especially with that accent, but the introduction of the gun seems to knock some semblance of urgency into them and mercifully they all start moving again except for his partner.

 He goes over to him and has to resist the urge to reach out and shake him. “Illya!" 

 Illya jerks his head up.

 “Come on, we don't have all night here.” He sounds harsher than he intended but if Illya can just make it to the boat – and he is relieved when Illya answers him,

 “Yes, of course,”

 and then he looks back out into the jungle, straining his ears; he can still hear the brothers arguing with each other, with Pia, their voices fading into the night. He needs to make sure they're keeping to the right bearing and that they don't miss the beach, and he starts running, assuming his partner is following him, but when he looks back Illya is striking out for somewhere else entirely.

 “Hey! This way, not that way.”

 He checks his watch again

Twenty-two minutes

 and when he hears Illya call his name he's this close to saying something he'll regret and he turns and is just in time to see Illya sink to his knees. With a Herculean effort he manages to slide and catch him as he pitches forward.

Illya is heavy and loose-limbed in his arms, and Napoleon turns him over roughly, bracing his partner's body against his. Illya's head lolls backwards and his T-shirt snags and pulls up to expose the skin underneath, and for a second, even in this desperate hurry Napoleon stares, and what he sees there may go some way to explaining why he slaps his friend's face with an unsteady hand so hard that it leaves an imprint, but Illya still doesn't stir, and so he pulls him up and over his shoulder and pushes himself to his feet, staggering slightly and shifting to balance his partner's weight, and then he is running, running as best he can, towards the beach.


 

 The steady rhythm of waves

             The lights of the boat further up

                                     Running on wet, compact sand because it is marginally easier than running on loose, dry sand and he knows the second Illya comes round, can feel his muscles tense and he increases his hold on Illya's legs. “Oh no you don't,” he grinds out.

 There is a subtle change in weight distribution as his partner lifts his head. “Napoleon?”

 "I will dump you in the surf if I have to," he manages in between breaths, “so don't try anything, if you don't want to get wet."

 Now that Illya's awake it throws his stride off, and he stumbles in the sand and feels Illya's head connecting hard against his shoulder blades.

 “Ow!” comes an indignant cry, and once again he can feel those muscles tensing.

 “I am warning you!”

 "Already went swimming—once tonight,” Illya says, his voice sounding odd and breathless from his upside-down vantage point, "would rather not—go again."

 "Then hold still, we're almost to the boat." And they are. They are, mercifully, almost there, and it's as if his body knows that they are nearly out of danger, that they will make it, because his legs stop running of their own accord and he settles for a brisk walk instead, the sand sucking at his feet, his chest heaving and his lungs burning. 

 "I can walk," he hears Illya say, and before he can stop him Illya uses his body weight to roll sideways and Napoleon has no choice but to release him and then he has to reach out quickly to seize him and hold him up.

 They do not touch each other usually, not like this, but now Napoleon is glad for a reason to keep his arm around him because Illya is uncharacteristically leaning on him and as he listens to Illya breathing too hard and too fast he knows that his partner may drop again any second and so he says, “How bad?”

 "Not that bad,” Illya answers thickly, and Napoleon feels a flare of anger, because Illya scared him, badly, and so he says, “You could've said something.”

 "I did say something,” Illya counters.

 "You could have said something sooner." Although Napoleon knows he isn't being quite fair. His partner had been running on empty ever since the control room.

 "I thought I could make it,” Illya says sullenly, and Napoleon knows he is embarrassed that he couldn't make it out on his own steam, that he had to rely on Napoleon for help, and that even now Napoleon is practically dragging him up the beach.

 "Do you also think you can fly?" he says, but gently now, because he can feel Illya shaking under his hand as he strains to keep going.

 "Only when I have a helicopter at my disposal. And I'm not the only agent to go down after a mission's completion."

 "No, you're just the only agent to think he's invincible, up until the point he drops like a rock." But there's no heat in his words. This is just what they do. They dance around the things that matter.

 By the time they reach the dock the Stiletto brothers are already onboard, and Pia, that rare jewel of a woman, is waiting for them. She does not seem surprised at the state Illya is in; instead she reaches out and he is grateful to her as he manhandles his partner across the dock into her waiting arms.

 He jumps down into the boat and looks at his watch again.

 Six minutes

 He pushes past them and shouts, “All aboard, move out, hurry up!” He knows a thing or two about boats so he stands there supervising Crunch as the old man brings the engines to life. He doesn't want to take any chances, not now, not when they're so close.

 “Head for open water,” he says, “we'll plot a course later.” Crunch opens his mouth to put his ten cents in, but Napoleon's grim demeanour shuts him up.

 The gunboat picks up speed and at first the noise of the engines is so great that Napoleon doesn't hear the bombers, and then all at once the boat is pitched up and tossed sideways and he and Crunch fall into each other.

 He makes his way back out to the stern where Illya and Pia are hunkering down. The whole island is burning and the sky is a backdrop of fire.

 “Now that's a sight,” he says. They turn round, following his gaze. Pia in particular seems mesmerised. “Madonna Mia,” she whispers. 

Illya looks back at him. "I didn't notice you calling Mr. Waverly to tell him we made it off," he says in a low voice.

 “No,” he says, still looking into the flames. 

 “Ah.”

 There is an explosion on the far side of the island that sends sparks cascading into the night like fireworks. His face is warm even at this distance and he's fairly sure he can smell smoke too. It reminds him of childhood and trips to Coney Island and if his mother knew this was where he'd ended up -

 "Still," he hears Illya say, breaking into his thoughts, "I'm glad we do not have to swim back,” and he smiles, despite himself.

 “Seconded, earnestly.”

He can't bring himself to look at the island any more. Instead he settles himself in between Pia and Illya, telling himself that it is because Pia is beautiful and because he likes her, and not because he needs to sit close to his partner, needs to feel Illya's elbow and hip press into his side as Illya shifts against him, needs to hear his little sounds of suffering because the boat is still lurching and Illya never did like the sea, needs to hear his breathing slowing and deepening as he slides down into sleep. 

Because he is drinking him in.

Because he needs to look for Illya (this tic, this tell, this weakness of his), and because he needs to find him there, alive, by his side, in the only place that matters.

 

 Finis