“Who do you work for, Mr. Jones?” Fassem’s voice was calm, almost friendly as he asked the question. If it weren’t for the fact that Illya was tied to a chair, a guard standing on either side of him, the interrogation might have been a simple business meeting.
“For a small aviation company in France,” Illya answered just as calmly, sticking with his cover story. Silently he was cursing in half a dozen languages; this was supposed to have been a simple information retrieval mission, not much more than a milk run, and yet he was once again a prisoner.
“I don’t believe you. You were trespassing on my property, Mr. Jones, and I wish to know what your purpose is here.”
“I must have read the map wrong.” Illya furrowed his brows and twisted his mouth, trying his best to look confused. Behind his back, where no one could see, he began to work on the ropes binding him. “I thought I was still on government land. Your country is in discussions with...”
“Liar.” Fassem’s voice cut him off sharply. “There is no government land within miles of where my men discovered you. What were you doing there?”
“I word for an aviation company. We are thinking of expanding our routes, building more airstrips.” There was nothing to be gained by giving the truth. Being tied to a chair and questioned would probably be child’s play compared to what Fassem would do if he learned the true nature of Illya’s mission. Power hungary multi millionaires who funded Thrush plots don’t generally appreciate the interference of U.N.C.L.E. agents.
“Very well, Mr. Jones. If you do not wish to be honest with me that is your prerogative. Imar, please bring me the falaka. It appears our guest needs a little persuasion.” The words tumbled from Fassem’s mouth in a delighted hiss,
When the guard closest to the door left the room, Illya felt a sinking in the pit of his stomach. He knew what Fassem planned to do to him, and in desperation redoubled his efforts to get free from the ropes. There was no point in praying to a god he didn’t believe in, but he did offer a brief hope that Napoleon was somewhere nearby and would rescue him soon. His body bore enough scars without adding those of a new method of torture to the rest.
The rope was too tight, and he was still bound when a guard pushed him roughly to the floor, two other men grabbing each of his feet. He tried to kick them away but in less than a minute the falaka was locked around his ankles and his feet were stripped of socks and shoes. The first time the bastinado cut across the soles of his feet he flinched. The second and third lashes burned. Without closing his eyes - he wouldn’t give Fassem the satisfaction - Illya used all his training to shut off his senses and focus only on the thoughts in his mind. He was able to hold out for forty three lashes before the pain broke through his mental block and he fainted.
Something was wrong. Not the usual ‘my partner’s being held captive and I have to rescue him’ wrong. That was a scenario that he was all too experienced with. He knew how to slip into Thrush satraps or megalomaniac's secret hideouts, timing his movements to avoid the guards, dealing with those that he couldn’t avoid. He knew how to pick locks to release prison doors and handcuffs, how to untie knots even when he couldn’t see the rope. He knew how to field dress his partner’s wounds, splinting breaks and staunching blood well enough to keep until they reached medical help. Maybe that was why this felt so wrong. There were no guards to evade or locks to pick, and in the dim light of the room there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with the man asleep on the cot, half covered with a blanket.
“Illya,” he hissed, standing next to the cot but careful not to touch the Russian. There was the slightest change to the man’s breathing pattern, not enough that anyone besides himself would notice, but he knew that Illya was awake. “It’s safe to open your eyes, partner mine.”
“First time I’ve been allowed to sleep in two days. It figures you would pick now to stage a rescue.” The words and scowl that greeted Napoleon were comforting in their familiarity. Illya’s eyes were shot through with red, the dark skin beneath them a testament to the lack of sleep. He was still wearing the same clothing he had disappeared in, though the black suit jacket was gone. There were no visible bruises, cuts, or burns, for which Napoleon was grateful. Maybe sleep deprivation and interrogation had been the worst of Illya’s Turkish experience.
“I have to do something to keep you on your toes. Can’t let you get too comfortable, can I?”
Illya’s only answer was a soft snort.
“Speaking of rescue, would you rather go back to sleep or shall we get out of this place?” Napoleon paused and listened, but there were no sounds coming from the hallway outside the room. Why were there no guards?
“I’m afraid that is easier said than done.” Illya frowned, his lips pressed together as he sat up and with shaking hands threw the blanket that had been covering him onto the floor. A shaft of light from the hallway fell across his feet, illuminating them in harsh relief.
Napoleon’s face blanched and he closed his eyes reflexively against the sight. He forced himself to open them. Illya’s pants were rolled up to mid-calf. From his ankles up his skin was the usual pale cream, lightly peppered with golden hair so fine it barely showed. The ankles themselves were ringed in dark bruises, but it was the feet that filled Napoleon with horror. Shades of purple and blue and the almost black of dried blood covered the skin of the feet that were swollen twice as large as they should have been. “What did they do to you?”
“I will translate thy life into death, thy liberty into bondage: I will deal in poison with thee, or in bastinado, or in steel,” Illya quoted in a sotto voce, not looking at Napoleon or his own feet. “The details don’t matter, not right now. The rather obvious problem is that I’m not going to be able to walk out of here.”
“I guess it’s a good thing that you’re so little; I can carry you,” Napoleon quipped, tearing his gaze away from the battered flesh. He had caught the word bastinado in the Shakespeare, and tried not to think about how many times the thin wood rod had been used to inflict this kind of damage. There would be time later to take care of the bastards who had been so brutal in their treatment of his partner. Now he had more important things to see to.
“Need I remind you that my fists are still in perfect working order?” Illya quirked a single brow, wincing as he moved slowly to the edge of the cot. “Be careful who you are calling little.”
“Save your threats for someone who’s actually afraid of you, my friend. Given how long you’re going to be spending in medical once we get home you’re going to have plenty of people to use them on.”
“I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to be rescued,” Illya groaned. “I’d rather stay here and sleep.”
“And deprive the nurses of having such a docile and sweet tempered patient? That would be cruel.” Napoleon ignored his partners muttering and kneeled on the ground, picking up the blanket that was next to the cot. He needed something to wrap around Illya’s feet, a kind of splint to keep broken bones from shifting as they escaped. The blanket was thin and easy to tear in half. “I’m sorry but I need to...”
“Just do it, Napoleon.” Illya raise his feet slightly and clutched the edge of the cot with both hands.
“First take these.” From out of his pocket Napoleon withdrew a small tin and opened it, spilling three white pills out onto his palm. They were only aspirin, and would help with the pain as effectively as a steak knife would cut down a tree, but they were all he had. Illya accepted them without questioning and swallowed them dry.
“So where’s Fassem?” Napoleon asked, in the hopes that answering questions would help to distract his friend from the added pain.
“Probably in his private chambers with a few of his wives,” Illya got out between gritted teeth. “There are a few men meant to guard me, but for some reason they don’t fear my escape and so they disappear as soon as they are sure Fassem won’t come back.”
“Obviously they don’t know you as well as I do.” Napoleon bound the swathed foot with a shoelace from one of the shoes that he found under the cot.
“Yes, I was just about to make a break for it,” Illya remarked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“Nice of you to wait around for me.” The second foot bound, Napoleon stood up from his kneeling position.
“You know me; I go out of my way to be polite and courteous.”
“You could give Emily Post a run for her money.” Napoleon grinned, and when Illya returned a tight smile he couldn’t help but chuckle. After days of worry and tense silence the familiar banter felt so good. He leaned down to lift his partner off the cot, one arm snaking under his legs and the other moving behind his back. Illya wrapped his own arms around Napoleon’s neck, doing his best to help support himself.
“I hope for your sake the exit is not too far away.”
“I’d carry you a hundred miles if need be.” All the teasing was gone from Napoleon’s voice, only sincerity and resolve remained. Illya didn’t respond, but tightened his hold around Napoleon’s neck.
Every step Napoleon took sent waves of pain radiating from Illya’s feet. He tried to ignore the pain, to think of something else as he had learned in training. The pain was too constant, worse now than it had been while he had been lying still and almost as bad as it had been when the cane had been thrashing against his feet in a constant rhythm.
When he was seven his home had caught fire in the middle of the night. He had escaped but there was no time to stop even for a pair of shoes and he had run out into the snow, his feet bare. It had felt like this, but the white hot pain was a hundred times magnified now, as if he had walked across the whole of Siberia without shoes.
Dimly he heard Napoleon curse, something about a guard. They spun, the suddenness of the motion making him nauseous. A gun fired, the smell of burnt cordite hanging in the air, but before he could work up the energy to ask Napoleon if he needed assistance the world went black.
When he woke up he was in the U.N.C.L.E. infirmary, and he was alone.