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The Master

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Two weeks later Napoleon hobbled up four flights of stairs, cursing whenever his foot would come into contact with a newel post. All things considered, he'd been pretty lucky. Landing on the bottom, he'd broken his leg and fractured some ribs. Illya had been luckier, or not, since he had the responsibility of getting them away. Not an easy job.

Once they'd managed to contact Waverly, things had moved pretty fast. Napoleon had been held up at the hospital for three weeks before he was deemed ready to move. He talked his way out after two. Illya was ordered back to New York after three days. Napoleon had on several occasions tried to talk with Illya over the communicator, Waverly had put a lockdown on information, but Illya was never around.

Finally, Napoleon arrived at the door and he paused to get his breath back. He really shouldn't have that much trouble using crutches. Balancing on one foot, he wacked the door with one of his crutches. No sound was forthcoming.

"Open the damn door. I know you're in there, Illya," yelled Napoleon. Pressing his ear to the door while balancing on the crutches, he though he heard movement inside. The door opened. He'd known it would be bad, but just not how bad. Illya looked worse than when he was in that South-American prison camp. His hair was unkempt and greasy and his face sported a scraggly beard. He smelled worse, too. "You gonna invite me in?"

Napoleon hobbled past Illya, his eyes making a swift survey around the apartment. Illya wasn't necessarily the neatest of persons, but this looked bad even for him. His gaze returned to his friend, Napoleon's nose twitching with distaste. "Why don't you clean up, Filthy?" His tone leaving little doubt that it was an order.

Illya crossed his arms over his chest indignantly and returned a glare, then he looked down at himself, sniffed and one corner of his mouth rose slightly in amusement. He dropped his arms in acquiescence and set off for his bathroom in a huff.

Using his crutches as a makeshift broom, Napoleon gathered all the empty boxes and bottles into one spot. He checked the kitchen with its dirty dishes and pots. The kitchen was a lost cause. The refrigerator was even in worse shape. Heaving a sigh, he worked his way to the bedroom and the mess that awaited him there. Rumpled bed linen, clothes scattered about, nothing hung. He picked up a hanger intent on hanging - something, when Illya emerged from the bath.

The shock must have shone on his face, because Illya's face had reddened and he was doing his best to hide behind the skimpy towel that he was using to dry himself. Too late, for nothing had prepared Napoleon for the loss of weight that left ribs showing and the yellow, greenish marks on Illya's torso.

"Nobody told me that you were in a scuffle with Thrush," Napoleon said.

Illya turned away, tossing aside his town, and rummaged through one of his drawers for underwear. With his back turned, he slipped on a pair of boxers and muttered, "That's because I wasn't."

Sadly enough, Napoleon was not terribly surprised. After his unproductive meeting with Waverly, he'd noticed a few nasty looks that came his way from fellow employees. He supposed Illya had received much the same. Looks Illya could handle. Normally Illya wouldn't have let something like that bother him. Had it escalated to blows? This looked like it had gone further. If it had there was going to be hell to pay.

"You had to tell them. You just had to tell them," Illya growled.

Napoleon stepped back, puzzled. "What the hell are you talking about? Tell who what?

"How else would they have known?" Illya accused angrily. "They seemed to think I enjoyed what happened to me."

"Illya, I swear by the God you don't believe in that I've not said anything to anyone. Not even in my report, which Waverly, by the way, refused."

"If you didn't, then who?"

"I don't know, but I plan to find out."

Since Illya's cupboards were bare, Napoleon called out for some Chinese takeout, over which the two had talked now that Illya's anger had been quenched.

"Talk to me," Napoleon ordered as he settled on the couch, using chopsticks to enjoy his meal. His plaster-encased foot was propped on a pillow, a clothes hanger close by, in case of itching.

"What about?" Illya asked before allowing a long string of chow mien to slide down his throat. Napoleon gave him a look that let him know not to bull shit around. Letting out a sigh, he commented, "There were three of them. In the parking garage."

"Did you recognize anyone?"

Illya shook his head. "They wore masks."

Cowards, Napoleon thought as he finished off his chow mien. They shouldn't be too hard to track down, Illya was sure to have left marks. Slowly he got up and reached for his crutches. "Get some sleep. I'll pick you up in the morning."

He waited until he heard the lock drawn before he slowly made his way down the stairs. That night he slept poorly. It didn't make sense. It wasn't like Illya to hide away like this.