Chapter 1: A Little Persuasion
“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.
Chapter 2: Lucky?
“You’re standing there, telling me that my partner might not ever walk without the aid of a cane, which would mean the end of his career in section two, and you think that’s good luck?”
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“You have a strange definition of the word luck, Doctor.” Napoleon resumed his pacing of the waiting room, needing the activity to prevent him from shouting, punching the doctor, or both. “You’re standing there, telling me that my partner might not ever walk without the aid of a cane, which would mean the end of his career in section two, and you think that’s good luck?”
“Mr. Solo, often the kind of torture your partner underwent can result in death, paralysis, or insanity. I’ve only ever had one patient beaten at the soles of his feet, and that man died hours later from a blood clot to the brain. Mr. Kuryakin will survive, and after a period of recovery he will walk again. That’s more than luck, it’s a miracle.”
“What are the chances of a full recovery? You did say that was a possibility, right?” He stopped, mid pace, and turned his stony gaze on the doctor. Dr. Standard, long experienced with enforcement agents, was only slightly intimidated.
“It is a possibility, but I can’t tell you by how much. We’ll have to wait and see.”
“Make sure to stay out of Illya’s range when you tell him that; he’s not really the ‘wait and see’ type.”
“You enforcement agents are all the same. There is more to life outside of U.N.C.L.E. Would it really be the end of the world if he couldn’t return to section two?”
End of the world; how easily people used that phrase. They didn’t understand how fragile the world really was, how close it came to ending on a regular basis. “For the world’s sake I hope not.”
He must have fallen asleep, because this time when he opened his eyes it was to the familiar sight of his partner sitting in the chair next to his bed. Napoleon’s feet were propped up on the corner of the mattress, his head leaned back and eyes closed. The sadists who ran the UNCLE infirmary did not even grant the small favor of having clocks in the patient rooms, and without a window he had no way of knowing if it was even day or night.
Without thinking he tried to move his leg, intending to kick Napoleon and wake him up. His legs, however, did not move. They were both in traction, raised by a pulley system a foot above the bed. It was hardly the most dignified position he had ever been in. He was going to have to speak to Napoleon about keeping visitors out of the room until the doctor released him from the ridiculous contraption. He tried to raise his head to get a better look at his feet, but did not have the strength to move more than a few inches.
“Choyut,” he growled. The doctor must have given him a muscle relaxant in addition to the painkiller that he had received to dull the throbbing in his feet.
“Wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, Illya?” Napoleon moved his feet from the edge of the bed, sat up in the chair and opened his eyes.
“I didn’t wake up on either side of it. As you can see I’m firmly tethered in the middle.”
“Yes, that is a rather interesting look for you, my friend. One for the scrap book, I think.” As he spoke Napoleon straightened his tie and tried to brush the wrinkles out of his clothes. He must have been sitting in the chair for a while, because he looked rather less dapper than usual.
“Don’t even think of coming in here with a camera unless you want it to end up in little pieces,” Illya threatened, even though he was mostly sure that Napoleon was joking.
“Now Illya, if you growl like that I’m not going to give you your presents,” Napoleon scolded lightly. Illya narrowed his eyes in his partner’s direction, but was pleased when he saw his glasses were perched on top of a stack of books that sat on the bedside table. Even better he spied a box wrapped in gold paper. “I stopped by your place to pick up a few things I thought you might want.”
“I didn’t have any chocolates at my apartment.” He eyed the gold box, sure that he could make out the sticker on the lower corner that bore the name of a confectioner.
“Oh these?” Raising the lid from the box, Napoleon confirmed that they were chocolates. He also held them conveniently out of reach. “The lovely ladies in the secretarial pool sent these up for you.” He let his hand drift over the box before making a selection and popping one into his mouth.
“Those are mine,” Illya said, reaching for the box.
“I don’t know. Maybe I should check with the doc first, see if you are allowed to have them.” Napoleon grinned as he held the chocolates only a few inches from seeking fingertips.
“There is nothing wrong with my digestive system, and no medication that would interact badly with chocolate. Now give them to me, Napoleon.” Illya twisted his back in order to stretch his arms a little farther, but was stopped by the counter action of moving his legs. Damn, he had forgotten. The position was not painful but it was awkward, and he fell back to the bed.
“Are you okay?” Napoleon rose from his chair in a hurry.
“I’m fine, I just forgot about the constraints.”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have...”
“Don’t apologize for treating me in a normal manner. It is annoying.” He swatted away Napoleon’s hand as it flitted about. “However if you feel the need to do something you could pass me the chocolates, my glasses and a book. The Tolstoy, perhaps; I have the feeling I’m going to have enough time to read it.”
“About that, Illya. I talked to Dr. Standard,” Napoleon paused, searching for the best words to use, knowing they didn’t exist.
“It’s alright, I know already.”
“You forget sometimes that I had a life before UNCLE. Other countries aren’t so... squeamish... about their interrogation techniques. My education includes information about many things, enough that I know I am fortunate that Standard thinks I will walk again, even if it is with assistance.” His voice was flat, as if he was reading from a rather boring book. Napoleon wondered if it was the result of the drugs he was on or if he simply hadn’t processed all that had happened yet. The Illya he knew would not take the possibility of lifelong crippling so calmly.
“I think Standard’s mistaken. A week in this place and you’ll be running out of here, nurses chasing you and doctors bellowing about not giving you permission to leave. In the meantime how about some lunch before you settle down with that Russian tome of yours?”
“As long as lunch is something more substantial that that watery broth they tried to pass off as food earlier.”
“Let me see what I can do.”
He would have brought Fassem in alive if the man hadn’t run. That had been the mission when he was called away from his partner’s bedside a scant two days after their return from Turkey, and despite his personal feelings for the man and the four days it had taken to track him, Napoleon honestly meant only to detain the crooked millionaire. He even had visions of trussing the man up like a turkey and making him travel in the belly of the plane. But Fassem had run, firing a gun behind him, and Napoleon did what he had to to stop him.
When he told Waverly as much the old man’s response had been to tap his unlit pipe against the desk. “It’s a shame Mr. Solo. He might have been able to give us the name of his Thrush contacts.”
“If he hadn’t been such a poor shot he would have given you a dead agent,” Napoleon, exhausted, couldn’t stop himself from commenting.
“All part of the job.” Waverly waved his hand dismissively. “I expect your report tomorrow morning. Now why don’t you go see that partner of yours, give the nurses a few minutes of peace.”
“Yes sir.” Napoleon walked out of the room at a normal pace, but sped up as soon as the door closed behind him. He had been tempted to visit Illya before he made his verbal report to Mr. Waverly, but knew that it would not please his boss. Now he jogged down the flights of stairs that separated the offices from medical.
The first thing he saw when he rounded the corner to the hallway that led to Illya’s room was a tray flying out of an open doorway and crashing to the floor. A moment later a young nurse ran out of the room.
“Good afternoon Nurse Pamela,” he said as he caught her before she could run into him. “And where are you going to in such a hurry?”
“Oh Mr. Solo I don’t understand how you can be partners with that man. He is an absolute terror. Did you see what he did with his lunch tray?”
“Illya was not bred for captivity, my dear. You’re only seeing the worst side of him right now. Why don’t you go get a couple of sandwiches, a cup of coffee and a cup of tea, preferably with a bit of jam stirred into it. I’ll go see what I can do about soothing the savage beast.”
“Alright, Mr Solo, but I’m not giving the new tray to that man.”
“Don’t worry, I will do everything in my power to protect you from flying lunch trays,” he reassured her, struggling to keep his facial expression serious. He waited until she was gone before grinning. Illya must be feeling better if he was throwing things. Five days ago he had still been spending most of his time sleeping, and showed very little emotion when he spoke.
“If you are bringing more of that insipid food don’t bother,” Illya’s voice called out the moment Napoleon’s shadow crossed the open doorway.
“No food, insipid or otherwise. The only thing I come armed with is my charming personality.” He leaned against the doorframe for a moment, surveying the room. The pile of books next to the bed was larger, but his partner was paler and thinner than he had been a week ago. The only positive sign was that Illya’s feet were no longer elevated in traction.
“Armed is right, when one takes into account the way women fall at your feet. Charming, however, is debatable.”
“I missed you too.” Napoleon abandoned the doorway and walked across the room to settle in the plastic chair next to the bed.
“From the little I have been able to glean from my visitors and the nurses you did not have time to miss anyone. Fassem led you on quite a goose chase, did he not?”
“He did. Three doubles and all of his wives sent out in different directions. While you’ve been lazing about here I’ve crossed Turkey three times and been shot at by two men calling themselves Fassem before the real one tried to kill me.”
“Obviously he did not succeed.” Illya squinted his eyes slightly as if he could see any bullet holes that might be hidden under the clothing.
“No, Fassem’s the one who ended up flying back in the pine box.”
“Good.” Illya nodded shortly, and failed to avoid glancing at his feet. “Now we can discuss more important matters.”
“More important?” He’d expected more of a reaction.
“Yes. Namely how you are going to get me out of this place before I am forced to crawl away. That would not be very dignified.”
“But it would be amusing.”
“Napoleon,” he warned.
“Sorry. What did Dr. Standard say about when he would release you?”
“Bah. That man thinks I will stay here until my feet are healed, another four weeks. If you were not back by tomorrow I was going to coerce April and Mark into helping me get to my apartment.”
“Where you would do what? Languish on your couch, staring at the refrigerator you couldn’t reach? Or perhaps you were planning on setting up a cot in the middle of the kitchen?” He probably shouldn’t give Illya any ideas; the man would do anything if it meant getting out of medical. Not that he could blame his partner, of course. He’d been known to sneak out of medical more than a few times.
“I won’t stay here.” The muscles of Illya’s forearms strained as he pulled himself up into a seated position.
“I know. Let me find out from Standard what you need then I’ll take you home with me.” He had barely stopped by his apartment for long enough to drop off his suitcase, but he had found the time to toss a set of sheets for the guest bed into the wash, scrounge for an extra toothbrush, and make sure a bottle of Illya’s vodka was in the freezer.
“I would say that I can take care of myself, but it would be a lie and you’d only argue with me anyway. So will will say thank you, and accept your offer.”
“Gracious as always, my friend.” A soft coughing called Napoleon’s attention to the doorway, where a nervous Nurse Pamela stood holding a tray. From the way she was eyeing Illya he knew she wouldn’t be coming close to the bed, so he rose from his chair and walked towards her.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Solo, but they didn’t have any jam. I brought some honey, I hope that’s alright.”
“It’s perfect. Thank you, my dear, for all your help, and for putting up with my friend’s temper. And please, call me Napoleon.” As he took the lunch tray he flashed her a smile, one that even Thrush agents responded to.
“It was no trouble, Mr. So... Napoleon.” Dazedly she backed out of the room.
“I’m not a misbehaving child, that you need to go around apologizing for my behavior.” When Napoleon turned back to the room Illya was glaring at him.
“Yes, I’m sure you had a very adult motive behind throwing your tray earlier.” Setting the new tray on the bedside table Napoleon passed his partner one of the plates, waiting until he set it on his lap before giving him the tea.
“The food they expect me to eat is worse than what prisoners are fed in the gulags. It’s even worse than the food downstairs in the cafeteria. I was merely making that point clear to them.”
“It’s not the nurse’s fault. You scared the poor girl.”
“One smile from you and she seems to be feeling better. Take her out tonight and I’m sure she’ll make a full recovery,” Illya remarked sarcastically.
“A wonderful idea, but I already have plans for this evening.” Napoleon took a sip of the coffee. It was barely lukewarm and tasted terrible but he drank it anyway.
“That’s quick work even for you, considering you only arrived in New York a few hours ago. Or is this date one you arranged before you left?” Raising one eyebrow Illya looked at his partner, making sure to keep any disappointment from showing in his expression.
“No, I just made this date.” He leaned forward and smiled mischievously. “You see, I’m bringing a blond home with me today.”
“I am not one of your women,” Illya said, but he was forced to hide a smile by taking a sip of tea.
choyut - damn it (hopefully, had to use an online translator)
Chapter 3: Moving In
“I believe we’ll take the elevator,” Napoleon commented as he pushed the wheelchair through the lobby of the apartment.
“You’re not at all amusing.”
It was late afternoon when they left the office, and the sun was already low enough in the sky that it was hidden by the buildings. Illya didn’t care. He looked up to the sky and basked in the warm and natural light. It had been more than a week now since he had been outside, since he had seen any scenery other than gray metal walls and hospital equipment. For the moment he didn’t even care that he was confined to a wheelchair, reliant on his partner to help him with the simple task of getting from the chair to the passenger seat of the car. All that mattered was that he was out of medical.
“Your chariot awaits,” Napoleon said as he opened the passenger door. He pushed the wheelchair as close to the curb as he could and helped Illya move from one seat to the other without putting any weight on his feet. Illya used the lever at the side of the chair to lean back as far as he could. During the entire of the drive to Napoleon’s apartment he stared up at the sky.
“I believe we’ll take the elevator,” Napoleon commented as he pushed the wheelchair through the lobby of the apartment.
“You’re not at all amusing.” Illya usually insisted on taking the stairs, eschewing the elevator as a sign of laziness. Napoleon, who he knew took the stairs as a matter of course when he was alone, made a point of arguing for the elevator when they were together.
“I am both amusing and entertaining. You’re simply a poor audience.”
Illya was relieved when the elevator doors opened to Napoleon’s floor. Being trapped in a box suspended by a cable was not his favorite place to be, even taking the security of the UNCLE apartment building into account. He felt even more relaxed once Napoleon had locked the door of his apartment behind them and set the security system. There were few places in the world he could let down his guard completely and this was one of them. Even in his current physical state he felt safe here.
“You won’t be surprised to learn that the cupboards are bare.” Napoleon swept his hand in the direction of the kitchen. Illya knew that in the past three weeks his friend had been in New York only two nights, and one of those nights he had slept in the chair in UNCLE’s infirmary. “If you’re hungry I can order us up something. Chinese perhaps or maybe Italian? I don’t care as long as it’s not Turkish food.”
“No thank you. I think I’d rather go to bed.” It was still light outside but he was exhausted. He hated the fact that something as simple as riding in a car from work to home could take so much of his strength.
“Give me two minutes to make up the bed.”
Illya nodded shortly. He didn’t attempt to move his chair at all, simply stared out the window Napoleon had left him facing. There were people walking on the sidewalk sixteen stories down. Some of them hurried, some of them dawdled. Illya was sure that none of them gave a thought to how much freedom the simple act of walking granted them.
“You’re bed is ready. Clean sheets and everything.” Napoleon came out of the guest bedroom, pulling Illya’s attention away from the scene below.
Illya almost quipped that he should get hurt more often if clean sheets and being waited on was what he should expected, but Napoleon was already acting a little too cheerful. Instead he simply said thank you and allowed his partner to wheel him into the guest room. The simple trip across town had tired him out enough that he needed a nap, a fact that annoyed him beyond measure, but one that he couldn’t ignore. He slept until dinner.
“Napoleon.” A knock on his office door barely preceded April’s entrance. She strode in without pausing, sitting down on the edge Illya’s desk without asking. Napoleon wasn’t sure if it was a relief to have someone facing him across the double desks or not. Two days he’d been back at work, after four days staying home, and the office had never seemed more empty.
“Hello, April. How was Costa Rica?” he asked more out of politeness than anything else. He’d read transcripts of her communications and had spoken to her yesterday when she was still in the field.
“Humid. Mark complained the entire time.” April propped one hand on the desk and leaned forward. “I’m more interested in how you are doing.”
“Me?” Napoleon set his pen down on the desk. “Why me? I’m fine.”
“For a trained agent you really aren’t very good at lying sometimes. There are dark circles under your eyes, two of your nails have been torn and not even filed, and you are doing paperwork without trying to pawn it off on anyone.” She looked pointedly at the piles of papers on his desk neatly sorted into stacks. “But mostly I just know what it’s like.”
“What what’s like?” He spread his hands out examining his nails. April was right, they were a mess. Normally he got a manicure after a mission, something Illya loved to tease him about. He would argue back that his hands were weapons and one should always keep their weapons in top condition. He hadn’t even thought about his nails or the haircut that he had missed a week ago when he was in Turkey.
“Being the other partner, the one that’s not hurt.” From her purse April withdrew a nail file. Walking around the desk she took one of Napoleon’s hands in her own. With a wink she turned her attention to his nails. “I understand wanting to do anything for that other person, up to and including changing places with them if that was possible. When Mark was in a coma last year I didn’t move for two days, not until he woke up and ordered me out of the infirmary.”
“I remember.” He and Illya had been on a mission, but they had arrived a few hours before Mark had awoken. April had barely looked at them when they had visited, so intent was she on her partner.
“How many times during the night do you get up to check on him, Napoleon?” she asked knowingly. She was done with his nails but she didn’t release her hold on his hand.
“Once or twice.” An average was close enough to the truth, he decided. Last night he had only woken up once, a little after two, and had peaked on his partner through the half opened door. The first night he had barely slept. Every noise, from the tick of the clock to the creak of a door woke him up, and every time he woke up he felt compelled to sneak across the hall. Despite the fact that he only took half of the doctor’s prescribed pain killers Illya seemed to sleep fine.
“And do you eat lunch during your lunch break? I know you’ve rushed home yesterday and today to check on Illya.”
“I grabbed a sandwich. Do you have a point, April?” He tried to temper his annoyance, but April sounded as if she had been taking scolding lessons from his partner.
“I’m your friend, I just want to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself. And if you need anything...”
“I promise I’ll let you know.”
“I will. Now go, I have reports to get back to.” He tugged her off the desk, kissing the back of her hand before playfully pushing her in the direction of the door. She was almost out of the office when he looked up from his pile of papers. “Thanks April.”
“Illya? I’m home.”
The moment Napoleon called out Illya was awake, but he didn’t answer his partner’s call. Maybe if Napoleon thought he was asleep he would leave him alone.
“I picked up a couple of calzones on my way...” Napoleon stopped in the bedroom doorway. “Illya?”
“Go away Napoleon,” Illya said sourly.
“What, in all the years of knowing me, makes you think I would do that?” He strode into the room and crouched on the floor next to Illya. “What happened?”
“I fell,” he said tersely. “In case that isn’t patently obvious.”
“And you decided to stay on the floor?”
“After the third time I tried to get back on the bed, yes.” He had almost made it once, but the weight of his legs had been too much to support. He had tried to climb in the wheelchair too, but an ungraceful slip had sent it rolling across the room. Frustrated, he had pulled a blanket off the bed and gone to sleep on the floor. Typical Napoleon, even his guest room had thick plush carpet; it was better than a hundred other places he had slept in the past.
“You could have called me on the communicator. I would have come back.” Napoleon retrieved the wheelchair from the corner of the room.
“What, in all the years of knowing me, makes you think I would do that?” Illya asked sarcastically. He scowled when Napoleon picked him up, but allowed himself to be helped into the chair.
“Partner of mine, you are too stubborn sometimes.” Napoleon wheeled the chair down the hall and into the dining room where dinner was waiting.
“Only sometimes? I shall have to try harder.” After all his stubbornness was more often a gift than it was a flaw.
“What am I going to do with you?” Napoleon shook his head as he opened a bottle of wine.
“Just lock me in a padded room and be done with it.” There were times, when they were rushed from assignment to assignment, moving across time zones in the way most people crossed the street, when all he wanted to do was sit in one place and read. Three weeks of nothing but sitting - or lying - down and he was beginning to believe in the catholic notion of purgatory.
“If everything checks out the week after next you’ll be allowed to go to work in the labs.”
“Like I said, a padded room.” The basement rooms were often a place of refuge where he could lose himself in science. Science was logical, it wasn’t like the cruelty of humans who killed for pleasure. But there’s was a great deal of difference between an occasional retreat and the painful reminder that his future might have been forever changed.
“It’s just a temporary arrangement until you are back on your feet.”
“If I ever get back on my feet.” Illya picked at his calzone with a fork. “Section six could be my future at U.N.C.L.E.”
“You’re not going to escape me that easily. Once the casts come off...”
“Once the casts come off it could prove that my feet are too damaged to allow me to be in section two.” Napoleon needed to stop deluding himself. They weren’t characters in some Hollywood picture where everything ended with a kiss and a happily ever after.
“Pragmatist. You know what they said in medical as well as I do.” Illya took a bite of his dinner and chewed thoughtfully, keeping his eyes on his plate. “You should start thinking about a new partner.”
“It was hard enough to break you in. I’m not going through that again.”
“Napoleon...” He knew Napoleon was going to brush his suggestion off, but it was a reality that they might have to face up to soon. He was dreading his next appointment at medical, though he would never admit it.
“There’s no point building up someone’s hopes, only to crush them when it turns out that you are fine and they don’t get to partner the CEA after all.”
“How do you fit through the door with the size of your ego?” Illya couldn’t help smiling at the outrageous statement.
Napoleon shrugged. “There are almost as many agents who would partner you, if they had a chance, despite the fact that you are such a cynical and caustic black Russian. It doesn’t matter though. Unless the Old Man gives an order you’re stuck with me, partner.”
“At the moment you’re rather the one stuck with me.” Illya looked pointedly at the wheelchair he was seated in. He would let the subject of the future drop, at least for tonight.
“A captive audience, just what I’ve always wanted.” Napoleon rubbed his hands together and arched his eyebrows like the villain in a cheesy movie. Illya had to scowl to keep from laughing.
“Eat your dinner.” Taking his own advice, Illya picked up his fork. His appetite had returned.
Chapter 4: Lions, Monkeys, and Other Caged Animals
“I’m not looking for a date, I’m looking to spend some time with my best friend.”
So I unexpectedly ended up moving last month, and haven't had much time for writing. I was hoping to have this closer to being done by the time the holiday season hit. Things might be a bit slow, because I work retail and it's the holidays, but I am working on new chapters. Thank you for all the kind comments, cousins.
“Rise and shine, partner mine. Breakfast is almost ready, and we’ve got a full day ahead of us.” Napoleon waited until the coffee was brewed and the ham was sizzling before waking up Illya. It wasn’t a surprise when his temporary roommate glared, growled, and pulled the blankets over his head. “It seems that shining wasn’t quite the right word to use.”
“Go away, Napoleon. My day includes nothing more than circling your apartment for the hundredth time. I see no reason to rush out of bed when I could be sleeping.” His voice was muffled by the blankets. Napoleon grinned; even on the best of days Illya was not one to greet the morning with a smile.
“Au contraire, mon ami. We are going out today.” It was Saturday, and barring any emergencies he had the day off. He’d decided that Illya would benefit from being somewhere other than the apartment or headquarters, the only places he’d been in weeks. If he was honest with himself, something he managed to avoid on a regular basis, he could use some time away from closed in spaces and work as well. “It’s a little chilly out, you might want to wear a sweater.”
“Did Waverly call? Or medical?” Illya sat up reluctantly, the blankets falling to his waist and revealing that he hadn’t bothered with pajamas, or at least not the top. He usually wore them when he stayed over, and always did on missions, but he’d been tired the night before. Dinner had been followed by ice cream while they’d watched the news, and a drink apiece while they’d played chess. It was the first drink Illya had had in weeks, and affected him more than it usually would have. Or perhaps that had more to do with the weight he’d lost.
“Nothing of the sort. It’s still two weeks before you’re expected at headquarters.” He tried not to think too much about what they might learn. Despite the optimism he tried to show around his partner he didn’t know how he’d cope if Illya was forced to retire from the field. He didn’t want a new partner, he wanted his partner. “This is about recreation. Now come on before the ham burns and the coffee gets cold. You can wash up after breakfast.”
“If you’re so eager for recreation why not call one of your women?” It took Illya a few minutes to get himself from the bed to the chair, and to wheel himself into the dining room, but Napoleon left him to do it himself. Especially after yesterday he needed to know he was capable.
“I’m not looking for a date, I’m looking to spend some time with my best friend.” There was toast and jam to go with the ham, and a couple of eggs he’d fried up. It was a fairly standard breakfast for them, easy to make and packed with protein. He put a little more than half on Illya’s plate, hopefully not enough that he’d notice. Illya needed to put some weight back on.
“One would think that the fact you’ve been stuck with me here for almost two weeks would be enough time. I understand if you want to go out and do something, you’re not limited to a chair.” To Napoleon’s relief Illya didn’t pick at his food, but ate it all between sips of coffee.
“Good thing that chair of yours has wheels, because we are going out.” Napoleon wasn’t taking no for an answer, and when he made up his mind he could outstubborn even his stubborn Russian partner.
They wound up at the zoo. Illya had grumbled about being in such a public location, even after Napoleon had agreed that they would both wear their guns as long as they were hidden under jackets. Napoleon had countered that there was no reason for any Thrush birdy to be at the zoo, or in Central Park. Fortunately they arrived just before feeding time for the lions, and his somewhat bloodthirsty partner was nicely distracted by the show.
“I think that one’s a relative of yours,” Napoleon commented as a lion leaped out from behind some rocks, snatching a piece of meat away from another lion and running with it in its mouth.
“As opposed to your relatives over there?” Illya nodded to their left, where a handful of peacocks wandered free.
“I doubt they have to pay for a tailor’s bill.” The lions settled down after their feeding, and Napoleon pushed the chair without comment, hoping that Illya would just accept the assistance. The ground wasn’t completely even. “What next? Spiders, snakes, monkeys?”
“With my luck your friend Angelique will be with the spiders, acquiring a new pet. I’d rather not.”
“Monkeys it is, then.” He didn’t want to think about Angelique or anyone from Thrush. He really didn’t want Illya thinking about Angelique and her complicated relationship with him. He’d had his reasons for playing a twisted sort of game with her in the past, but it had been ages since he’d last spent time with her. It wasn’t anything Illya needed to worry about, or anything that he wanted to explain considering how irrelevant it was now. “Although if our little bird friends are here the monkey exhibit seems like the most likely place for them. Probably picking up tips on how to run a satrap.”
“They could only wish to be so intelligent,” Illya snarked.
It was while they were watching the penguins that Napoleon realized his partner had fallen asleep. It was just past one; they’d been at the zoo for three hours and had just finished up hot dogs and fries from a cart. On a good day Illya could go for twenty-four hours easily without sleep, and sometimes longer, but it hadn’t been a good day for weeks. Napoleon felt guilty at not considering how easily Illya would be tired out. He should have insisted they left earlier. “What am I going to do with you?” Illya’s hair had been ignored even more than usual, missing the rare trim, and covered his eyes. Napoleon brushed it back with a single finger, his fingertip brushing against an old scar. Italy, if he remembered correctly. Or was it Kenya? There were too many scars, many of which he had seen added to the collection. And the newest additions, not yet healed, made him wonder if they were the last. If it might not be a blessing, in that way, if Illya didn’t return to the field.
“You could buy me some fairy floss, I believe a little sugar is called for.” Illya’s eyes blinked open, catching Napoleon off guard.
“I thought you were sleeping.” He hadn’t meant to be caught acting so sentimentally. It didn’t usually go over well with his partner.
“We are in public, Napoleon. I may be injured but I’m not so stupid as to allow myself to be that unguarded. I was merely resting my eyes.”
“I think you were doing more than that. I believe I heard a snore.” He knew his partner’s breathing patterns as well as his own. While he wasn’t deeply asleep, he hadn’t been awake either. Not at first.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Illya lifted up his chin, looking every bit as royal as any prince Napoleon had ever seen, and he’d seen quite a few. “The candy floss, if you please.”
“We call it cotton candy in America.” He’d seen a stall near the elephants, earlier. “Would you like pink or blue?”
If there was one good thing about his chair, other than the fact that it allowed him to be places other than a bed, it was the fact that it made him use his arms. Unless Napoleon insisted on pushing him, of course, but Napoleon had been gone for three day now. He had allowed himself to rest too much, letting his feet distract him from keeping the rest of his body in shape. When a few hours at the zoo had exhausted him it hit home that he needed to do better. With new determination and an actual goal to work on for the first time in weeks Illya spent hours working out, figuring new ways to strengthen his muscles. He wasn’t going to be stuck on the floor again, or fall asleep in his chair to leave others to guard him.
“If Waverly sees you doing that he’s going to change his mind about having you on sick leave. You look like you could take out half a dozen Thrush just with the chair.” Mark Slate had arrived with Chinese take out; Illya accepted the bags and made a tight turn, popping a wheelie as he headed for the kitchen. Napoleon was away on an affair, but had insisted that he stay in the apartment. Illya hadn’t argued too hard; there would be precious little room in his own place to maneuver the chair. He wouldn’t admit it even to his partner, but he also felt better when surrounded by Napoleon’s things when Napoleon was away. As if he’d just run to the store, and not Greece, and would return safe and sound at any moment.
He hated when Napoleon was on missions without him. It was worse this time, knowing that if the worse happened and a rescue mission was needed he wouldn’t be the one going after his partner.
“Only to be foiled by a simple set of stairs or a closed door. Or any number of obstacles,” he commented wryly, but not harshly.
“At least you’re looking better, mate.” Mark set a six pack of ale on the table and took the seat across from the empty place where the chair had been moved to make space for Illya’s wheelchair. It was the third night in a row he’d brought dinner, just like April had shown up for the past three lunches. He wasn’t sure if Napoleon had expressly asked them, or if it was something they’d done on their own. He couldn’t be upset about it, and though he didn’t say anything he was grateful to them, and for the fact that they weren’t also away. The stove was too awkward to use; he’d expect to be on a diet of sandwiches for the length of Napoleon’s absence.
“Any affair that doesn’t end in a coffin is a good one,” he said with a shrug as he clinked his beer bottle against Mark’s. It was a darker ale than anything Napoleon kept in the apartment, and reminded him of English pubs. For just a moment he wondered what it would be like to transfer to U.N.C.L.E. London; if he had to work in the labs it might be easier in a new place. Easier than seeing Napoleon leaving for missions with a new partner, certainly.
“Speaking of affairs have you heard about Keening in section three and the go go dancer he met while on a milk run?” Mark seemed to have a new story every day; he was almost as well attuned to the gossip as Napoleon. Illya had little interest, but it was a distraction at least so he listened to Mark’s stories. Once or twice he even laughed as he drank his three bottles of ale and polished off his food.
Mark was long gone and he was almost asleep in his bed when he heard the front door open. For three days only Mark or April had crossed the threshold but it was past midnight and neither would dare without announcing themselves. Illya reached for the gun he kept within reach, holding it steadily trained on the door until there was a light tapping.
“It’s me.” The voice was as familiar as his own, and he returned the gun to the nightstand.
“Welcome home, Napoleon.” He was almost sitting up before the door opened and his partner stood in the dim glow of a single bedside lamp. Illya’s gaze narrowed in on the way he favored his left side and the bandage at one temple. It was hardly the worse he’d looked on returning home, but hardly the best either. “You look terrible.”
“You flatter me.” He sat on the edge of the bed, not gingerly but certainly showing signs that he had to think before moving. “And how are you this fine hour? I’ve honestly lost track of whether it’s late evening or early morning.”
“Well enough.” He examined his partner carefully. “Either go to your room or lie down before you fall, Napoleon. You look like you’re about to sleep sitting up.”
“You’re not the only one with that talent.” To Illya’s surprise Napoleon toed off his shoes before lying down on the bed, his hip pressing against Illya’s through the covers. “I’m fine, nothing a little sleep won’t fix. I couldn’t sleep on the plane and it was a long day before that.”
“You might be more comfortable if you change.” He didn’t push Napoleon away, though. Instead he moved a little closer to the wall to allow Napoleon more space. His partner rolled onto his side, eyes drifting closed.
“In a few minutes,” he muttered, eyes already mostly closed. Illya waited, watching him, until he was certain Napoleon was sleeping. It wasn’t easy to reach past him to turn off the lamp, and even harder to bend enough to reach the blanket at the foot of the bed to drape over his partner. He managed, and turned over so his back was to Napoleon. It was hardly the first bed they’d shared, but it was the first time while not on assignment. Perhaps that was why it felt different, more intimate. Or perhaps it was because of the relief he felt to have Napoleon’s weight against his back.
For the first time in three days he slept deeply and without dreams.